Review Summary: The EDM machine takes another prisoner.
Only two tracks into The Crystal Method
, the lifeless, trashy “Over It” sounds a death knell. Though it’s fortunately the worst song on the album by far, it’s telling of how far the American breakbeat duo has fallen. No longer content (or possibly able) to make ravey, earth-shattering breaks, The Crystal Method has resorted to formulaic EDM tropes, as evidenced by the boring wobbles of the song’s straight-ahead brostep. And while “Over It” is only one of two misguided half-time segments (and thank heavens for that), the extent of the big-room influence is all too prominent. It’s a conundrum, really: there are great, vibrant tracks like “Sling The Decks” peppered throughout, Aforementioned misguided half-time section notwithstanding, tracks like this show the best side of the album, incorporating the best of the party-starting electro tropes of today into the distorted power chords and high-energy breaks that have worked so well for the producers in the past. It’s truly odd that songs that are as fun as the few good ones are so uncommon here.
Unfortunately, for every solid track there are three or four far inferior ones. The Crystal Method works best when they’re fiddling around with ecstasy-laden breakbeats, and it’s nice to see the Divided By Night
-esque sound actually work
sometimes, but by and large the house bent apparent in outside influences like Le Castle Vania and Nick Thayer detracts massively from the experience. Taking “Storm The Castle,” for example, the cloying synths and two-dimensional beat sully the typically energetic TCM sound. There are still classic elements of their wonderful breakbeat tracks - distorted guitars, high-pitched whines, stuttered roars - but by and large what’s worked in the past takes a backseat to rotting electro-house arpeggios and too much focus on slick, superficial production techniques.
More importantly, “Storm The Castle” shows what’s really the major problem with the album - lack of creativity. The obvious big-room EDM elements contribute - formulaic beats, uninteresting synths - but the root problem of said big-room EDM especially hurts: uninteresting song structures. Every so often, you get a great tune like “Jupiter Shift,” a rare occurrence of a mostly straight-ahead beat still sounding lively and charged. Of course, it helps that TCM’s drums are better than the flat kicks and anemic snares of standard pop-house fare, and in a rare example in modern maximalist 4x4 the duo’s distortion and compression doesn’t solely revolve around one or two notes. However, that’s unfortunately not the case for most of the album. Picking the worst offender out of a handful of bad tracks, “Dosimeter” serves as an ineffective counterpoint to tracks like “Jupiter Shift,” as its moombah-influenced electro house focuses too much on fancy compression and not enough on actually making an interesting song. The unfortunate result is that the all-too-similar lead synths create plodding syncopation, complete with obnoxiously repetitive wobbles and a distractingly tedious two-steppy beat. The problems with “Dosimeter” aren’t isolated, either - “Emulator,” “After Hours,” and “Graces” especially (ignoring the god-awful LeAnn Rimes vocals on the latter for a moment) suffer from a near-total imagination deficiency.
Despite everything, there’s still at least some
life and ingenuity on The Crystal Method
when all is said and done. However, it’s really sad that the state of poppy US electronic is such that we’re saying a group as well-established as The Crystal Method has released an album that “isn’t as bad as it could have been” solely because it doesn’t fall under the Epic Mashleg phenomenon and utilizes drum sounds which took more than fifteen minutes to craft. We’re at the point where it’s clear The Crystal Method isn’t going to release another Vegas
(nor does it seem as though they particularly want to do that), and there’s the overwhelming sense that whatever success the duo achieved on this effort owes itself to aiming low in the first place. The Crystal Method
is unambitious at best and an offense to The Crystal Method’s earlier work at worst, and the duo’s strict adhesion to suffocating radio-electro should end any hope of some half-hearted return to form.