Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Review: Crystal Castles' "Crystal Castles"

"Wow," a friend wrote to me when he heard Crystal Castles for the first time, "I can't believe you'd listen to stuff like this." I have wondered the same thing over the last few weeks, as I've played the bands first and only album, released earlier this year. I bought the album after I saw some footage of singer Alice Glass performing "Alice Practice" at the Glastonbury festival this summer, a spinning and pogoing dance that would pull in anyone who has any interest in live shows.

But that's not enough to explain it. The album is hardly represented by that one track, which sits on top of the others like an angry dog protecting the home it's made among the dust heaps of electro beats and broken samples. Something more attracts me to "Crystal Castles." Being an urban 'youth' myself (I'm at least half honest there), I always find sounds that make me feel a cold city space draw me in. Since I heard my first Joy Division song at least 15 years ago, I've loved that sterility in music.

Still, there is a lot of stuff that would qualify on those grounds, and much of it wouldn't require me to buy an album in which I'm yet to grasp a single lyric - usually a killer for me with new music. Certainly the album is uneven sometimes too, sometimes too digestably smooth for my liking, occasionally even sounding like a very shiny backing track to some unspeakable pop hit to come. It remains a mystery, but I'm digging deeper into the album, and my own mind, to see if I can make sense of it.

Perhaps it's the digging that counts. I bought another album recently that shall remain nameless, which I got into almost immediately, but was left with the uneasy feeling that it was too quick to win me over. I don't want to be treated that well by new music, or I start to choke on the sound as I gulp it down. Crystal Castles doesn't give me that easy, comfortable recognition of 'music I like,' and perhaps in the end, I'll decide I don't. The process the band has put me through though has rewards too, and I thank them for that.

The Garage Dogs at The Abbey Lounge

There is a history in this town, and I'm on the outside. As soon as I got to the Abbey Lounge that Friday night, I could tell that The Garage Dogs had been on this scene longer than I have been in this country. People are impatient, and they murmur to one another a little nervously, like they are waiting to reunite with an old girlfriend who they know has had a cooler life than them since the split.

The band know it too. You can see in their faces as they quickly set up to play that they are the ones who have been living it up, and they just want to show us one more time that they were the ones we should have stuck with. Their urgency to get to the noise-making makes me excited to see them too.

I'm just a few feet from the lead singer of the three brothers who make up the majority of the band. He sets up a large keyboard in front of him precariously on a bar stool, and I can see that this show will be a balancing act all the way. The keyboard takes a pounding from the first song in, as he beats out a rhythm more than a melody, with wiry fingers. For a while I can't take my eyes off that keyboard, listing violently back and forth. Stretching his whole body to sing out over us all, he doesn't seem to care if he loses his instrument, so I let it go.

It's all one breakneck song really, pouring energy over us. The Garage Dogs shake and writhe and give us everything we need for our money. I had heard the band was really shock rock, and they could be expected to do anything on stage to get the crowd moved and moving. In the end they don't strip-naked or simulate sex with a stuffed toy, but I'm shocked by the time I leave all the same. How well do the new bands on the Boston scene need to perform to beat this sound?