Thursday, March 10, 2011

Friction in Motion: Crystal Castles (Live @ The Royal Oak Music Theatre, March 13)

Words: Tom Matich

"And, as you know, Crystal Castles stole my heart a couple years ago. I haven't really been as romantically inspired by a record since." --
Anthony Kiedis, as told to Rick Rubin [Interview Magazine, February 2011]

There are artists that when looking back at an era or movement standout as important figures in that time. With it being 2011 there's a decade of augties music to still make sense of. Where as previous periods had many obvious musicians who could be used a primes examples of an era and genre (The Beatles, Black Sabbath, Depeche Mode, Tupac Shakur.. only to name a few).. these last ten years moved so quick.. with such a rabid focus on digitally ingesting as much material as we could handle from Kanye West to Animal Collective to all the bands that looked back on previous decades and trends when moving forward.

So what makes Crystal Castles different?

It's certainly not just that they've moved the frontman from Red Hot Chili Peppers. Earlier this year, a friend of mine who works at Northern Lights Lounge in Detroit was organizing a new dance party he called "Raw Sugar." He asked me to be one of the DJs and during a phone conversation I wanted to know what sort of aesthetic he was aiming for. He described a vibe that shied away from the candy-pop and bubblegum '80s new wave.. he wanted darker and edgier dance music. The main reference point was Crystal Castles. And with that, I knew what he was going for...

In 2008, when Crystal Castles appeared with their self-titled debut album, they fit right in line with the 8bit techno sounds of Detroit's own Deastro, only adding a gothic twist à la The Faint. Perhaps that's nothing unique, except for the grating, abrasive punk rock screeches of front-gal Alice Glass. Tracks such as "xxzxcuzx me," were nightmarish trips to swirling psycho-killer crawling arcades. Pretty much music to piss your parents off.

Yet Crystal Castles isn't altogether offensive and lacking rhythm. Cuts such as the icy "Vanished" or the melodic melancholy of "Courtship Dating" are hypnotic dance tracks that form the core of this duo whose bite is indeed as vicious as their startling barks.

Their live shows have gained attention for being fucking crazy. Alice Glass has leaped from speakers, she's broken bones. When they played the Magic Stick with HEALTH (the band whose raucous song "Crimewave," Crystal Castles transformed into a bouncy android mash) in Detroit in early 2008, it was one of those "where did all these crazy kids come from?" moments.

Last year saw the mysterious duo release their second album (again self-titled) and collaborating with The Cure's Robert Smith as he lent vocals to the single release version of "Not In Love" (a cover of an obscure new romantic hit by Platinum Blonde). It has been written that producer Ethan Kath crafted some of the instrumentals for the latest record in an abandoned shack in Detroit. He's been quoted saying that he recorded many of the tracks in some very cold weather. Well, winter in Michigan this year has been a "snowpocalypse."

Upon request, Deep Cutz was not granted an interview with Crystal Castles, as the publicist kindly replied "they actually don't do anything that appears online. I know, it's weird, but it's their choice." In this recent climate of Charle Sheen Tweets and iPad hysteria, I find it to be quite refreshing.

I'm curious to see how the group's concert at the Royal Oak Music Theatre unfolds this coming Sunday... will the suburban venue unleash a wave of spirited teenage angst?

Crystal Castles latest effort is more sinister, blistering with volcanic eruptions that have bold titles like "Pap Smear" and "Vietnam." The album sounds like a score to a Stephen King film adaption about archaic, discarded electronics that come to life seeking revenge. In the music video for "Baptism," Glass' hyper dancing is set against clips of a burning house and a creepy baby. It's the sort of imagery that might have sparked outrage 1o-15 years ago, but there hasn't been a Nightline segment on how controversial and inappropriate Crystal Castles are. Perhaps Americans have just become too desensitized. Yet, one gets the impression that Kath and Glass are winking at us.

It's easy to take a hint by listening to the shimmering full moon of "Celestica," with Glass' foggy whispers of "do you pray with eyes closed naturally" and the accompanying music video featuring the singer dressed for Bible School and roaming around a graveyard. The track is possibly the band's best yet, with an euphoric wave of exorcising synthesizers. While their dark music lurks in the shadows, I wouldn't write Crystal Castles off as satanic or another silly Marilyn Manson shock fest.

For this writer, the violence and gloom in their music is merely a reflection of mankind and the consequences of the poisons that torment this earth: abuse of religion, money, war, etc. Be it, "Fainting Spells," which is abrasive and confrontational to the point of being perhaps unlistenable to "Courtship Dating," a wired wetdream -- the band has sort of packaged up modern day society into audio pornography -- dirty, graphic, perhaps a bit wrong, but pleasurable and fetish fancy none-the-less.

And above all, and to what makes this band special and why they matter is this: in this day when art, music, and even people seem to be devoid of a soul... Crystal Castles come off as possessed.

I think this is what inspires Kiedis. What my friend was thinking of for "Raw Sugar." Why this band is different and what I mean by possessed is not that they are the Devil's Music. They are angry.

And anger... that is something we could use more of. Because shit is fucked up. Anger can lead to changing things for the better.

Crystal Castles -- The Royal Oak Music Theatre -- Sunday, March 13, 8pm

No comments: