First time around, Crystal Castles managed to fuck off most who dealt with them. Still, armed with ‘Alice Practice’ and that HEALTH remix their petulant paddies were almost justified. They sounded brutal, uncompromising, completely original and just as exciting. Then they released their more-ambient-than-expected debut album and the feet-stamping and cancelled shows grew increasingly unwarranted. Not wanting to look silly, most of us continued to give them the benefit of the doubt.

In terms of recorded material, this second album (also self-titled in characteristically difficult fashion) tells a similar tale to the first, only heard with ears now tired of the glitch thrash model, here still very much in its 1.0 state.

Where ‘Alice Practice’ would have been, ‘Fainting Spells’ opens ‘Crystal Castles’, not ranting over video game zaps but wailing in a mess of static and menacing feedback. And yeah, it’s enough of a thumper to grab your attention, just before airy, pop single ‘Celestica’ castrates the Toronto duo by sounding like the kind of ethereal, dreamy house that revisits Club 18-30 each summer.

‘Year Of Silence’ – a near twin of the band’s ‘Crimewave’ remix that speaks gibberish in backward tongues – is genuinely brilliant though, as would ‘Doe Deer’ be if its deranged organ riff (inspired by Metronomy’s ‘You Could Easily Have Me’ and ordered to leave no man, woman or child alive) hadn’t been needlessly recorded on an iPhone and constantly in the red. The result of such a decision, while welcome in its desperation to dirty the more overtly pop elements of this album, means that Alice Glass’ retches and banshee shrieks are almost drowned out by the speaker-blown crackle.

‘Suffocation’ takes ‘Courtship Dating’’s scuffing drums and sets the once sexy beat to yet more soaring synths and sung, pop lyrics by Alice; ‘Baptism’ is a Frankenstein’s monster of a track, also compiled of elements from the band’s first album, although god knows which track it sounds most like – a majority of them are in contention.  And this, unfortunately, is the overriding state of  ‘Crystal Castles’ – a second album that impressively lacks progression and winds up sounding like a CDR of the record you’ve had for two years already.

If only there were more tracks on here like ‘Empathy’, which takes a simple, hip-hop, 4/4 beat and adds the kind of shimmering synth loop that makes Timberland the King Midas of production that he is. In its current climate it’s a unique glimpse of Crystal Castles’ potential indeed. But what ‘Crystal Castles’ boils down to is 3 definite highlights that, if matched, would have meant that Ethan Kath and Alice Glass could have stropped around for another year, forgiven.  With 11 tracks that are largely undecipherable from previous efforts, though, it looks like they might need to learn how to behave themselves.

By Stuart Stubbs

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