Record Review: Crystal Castles, “Crystal Castles (II)”

Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles (II)

Much like its predecessor,
Crystal Castles (II) is a schizophrenic ride, oscillating between arctic elegance and disappointing letdowns. The unnerving, annoying assault of “Fainting Spells” bleeds into the darkly beautiful “Celestica”; the hyper-distorted mess that is “Doe Deer” gives way to “Baptism,” a song that’s almost fantastic, yet ultimately ruined by its repetitiveness and grating vocals.  After a while, the dead weight/white noise starts to frustrate the listening experience. Luckily, there’s iTunes and the ability to uncheck or remove songs from your library.

If I were reviewing only what remained after my Stalin-esque purge, I’d give II a few marks higher. Despite the sections of the album that irk me, when the Canadian duo get it right, they are truly on fine form, often surpassing even the highest points of their debut. “Not in Love,” “Vietnam,” and “Celestica” find Crystal Castles at their best, taking the melodic framework of a song like “Vanished” from the first self-titled release and augmenting it, building towards near-anthemic climaxes that were completely absent on II‘s predecessor, and all without sacrificing the duo’s unique voice. The problem with these triumphs is that it becomes difficult to reconcile a number of tracks on II after seeing what Crystal Castles are truly capable of.

A number of reviews draw parallels between II and the Knife‘s Silent Shout, a fitting comparison both in terms of sound and vision, as well as the splintered and sometimes frustrating listening experience. There’s much to champion on II, as there was on Silent Shout, and yet it’s difficult to find solid ground to stand on. My frustrations with II are undone by the sheer talent and solid songwriting found at various points throughout the album. But sadly, while the delight in listening to individual tracks like “Empathy” and “Vietnam” is there, this experience cannot be sustained over the album as a whole. There are too many offerings that are ‘almost there,’ such as “Baptism”; near-stagnant or overly repetitious, like “Violent Dreams”; or outright exasperating, such as the aforementioned “Fainting Spells” and “Doe Deer,” and the first half of closer “I Am Made of Chalk.” And while I am not of the opinion that sampling Sigur Rós is taboo, the fact that “Year of Silence” only demonstrates the full talents of its creators in occasional breakdowns and at the track’s close is disappointing, especially seeing what Crystal Castles can do throughout tracks like “Vietnam” and “Not in Love.”

All said and done, there is much to like about II — in many ways, it eclipses its namesake and demonstrates the artistic development of its members. That said, I would have much preferred a tighter, more focused 9 or 10-track effort with certain cuts surfacing later as b-sides.

Crystal Castles’ website
Crystal Castles on MySpace
Crystal Castles (II) on iTunes
Crystal Castles (II) on Amazon

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