Thursday, 12 May 2011

Album Review - In Love With Oblivion, Crystal Stilts

Written for and published on the ever so amazing Amelia's Magazine.

The new album from Brooklyn based Crystal Stilts is out now on Fortuna POP! The Joy Division comparisons are impossible to shake off, but we're still impressed by this second outing.

I was hoping to be able to stay away from the Joy Division comparisons while writing this review of New York band Crystal Stilt’s new album In Love With Oblivion, but like many before me I’ve found it basically impossible – the influence of Ian Curtis flows through the band’s second album like a vein of precious metal. It’s singer Brad Hargett’s drone-like vocal that does it, strongly recalling Curtis as well as the similarly enigmatic Jim Reid of The Jesus and Mary Chain. (And now I won’t mention the J D words ever again…promise.)

In fact quite a lot has been written about Hargett’s singing style, sometimes scathingly, and his vocals are a little monotonous. There are points on this record when I really wanted him to surprise me by stepping out of the echo chamber to give some these songs a bit of extra punch. On Silver Sun for instance, the whole band are doing some pretty great stuff – the guitars and the organs and the jangle of the tambourine but Hargett maintains his monotonal drawl. There are few upbeat tracks on this record and if Hargett switched his style up a bit on some of them, it would lift the whole album.

But perhaps I’m missing the point, this appears to be an album that is more concerned with creating atmospheres or feelings than totally nailing each individual track. Hargett’s obvious attachment to the echo effect and the whole lo-fi approach towards recording and production makes this album sound dreamlike, almost as if you could be listening to it underwater, and to over-produce or clean up the sound would mean losing some of this otherworldly charm.

There’s also a kind of filmic side to the album, thanks to the murky sound and doom-laden lyrics, not forgetting the use of sound effects. Songs open and end with gusts of wind, car crashes, and crickets – it’s totally atmospheric and a big hint that Crystal Stilts aren’t your average Brooklyn-based hipster garage band.

Illustration by Stephanie Thieullent, see more of her amazing work on her blog, here.

The band clearly includes some skilful musicians, the Johnny Cash-inspired guitar licks of opening track Sycamore Tree provides as good an introduction as any – this is a track that sounds like it’s been around for the last 50 years. In fact there are clear 1960s influences throughout and pretty convincing in places, like the band went to sleep in 1964 and woke up in 2011 and continued making music like nothing had changed, which for someone like me, who happens to love the music of the 1960s, makes this album a really interesting prospect.

There are peaks and troughs with this record though, the seven minute Alien Rivers is a needless addition but those that follow like stand-out track Flying Into the Sun is a fantastic listen and includes the inspired lyrics “There’s a black hole/ behind these eyes/ takes everything with it/ when it dies.” Like the album title suggests there is a bit of an emo vibe running through much of Hargett’s songwriting.

This is the kind of album then, that may well find itself providing the soundtrack to a whole host of late night gatherings and post-party hangouts, and I suspect could sound even better when you’re burnt out but not ready to go to bed just yet.

Crystal Stilts are playing in XOYO in London on June 21 – their only UK date and by the sounds of it, well worth getting down to.

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