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2012 release, the third album from the Canadian Electronic/Experimental band, the first of their albums to be produced entirely by band member Ethan Kath. ''We wanted the album to sound like a completely different and new experience'' says Ethan. ''We'd limit ourselves to one take on each song because we believe the first take is the rawest expression of an idea,'' By ditching their old synthesizers and keyboards used on I and II, Ethan enforced a 'strictly no computers' rule in the studio and began recording everything directly to tape. Together the Canadian duo has conjured up a collection of songs that are as raw as they are well rounded. As `(Ill)' unfolds, each track will take you to greater heights and equal lows, as you enter the sometimes plagued and often polarized world that is Crystal Castles. Recorded mostly in Warsaw and Berlin, the album also boasts the haunting and euphoric 5-minute mind-bender 'Plague' that quickly caused a cyber-storm amongst fans and media when the band unveiled it via their soundcloud page this summer.
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For people just coming into the fold, this may be a great introduction. There is emotion and emphasis sized down for the average listener whereas their first two albums can be over-whelming to take in at once.
If anything I'm left, as always, wanting more from a duo who seem to try to give everything of themselves to their audience. Each album is a different monster. This monster seems to be hiding in the shadows- small, sharp, desperate, and willing to run away with you if you let it.
They haven't taken long to leave their mark. After a promising debut in 2008, the Canadian electronic duo struck gold with their sophomore album II, one of the most distinctive electronic albums of the past several years. The release of III reinforces a striking fact about Crystal Castles that every album they have released are markedly different from one another.
Their debut was a visceral, aural experience rife with clinking and clunking of old video game machines, while their sophomore release drew much more heavily from IDM and refined their production; the electronics on that record were as sharp as a razor's edge. Main composer Ethan Kath has ensured that III shares little in common with those, so it's tough to make a direct comparison. But it doesn't take long to determine that it's much more atmospheric and even more dream like than its predecessor.
Crystal Castles have typically been a tough nut lyrically, with most of the vocals being glitched beyond comprehension. But would you have guessed Alice Glass as defender of the downtrodden? It seems to be what she's going for. In numerous interviews, she's spoken extensively on issues pertaining to women's rights and equality as well as flagging quality of life and limited rights of people around the world. These themes heavily inform III.
Lead single "Plague" shares fears of military and economic oppression on a third world scale, while noting we may be contributing to this descent with our own actions. The music is carefully building up in the background, bubbling and broiling until Alice at last reaches her grand realization: "I am the plague!" Her sense of rage and apprehension is palpable from the instant you hit play.
The theme is revisited several times later, including "Wrath of God," where Alice's muffled voice warns against the loss of independence and heritage. With its thumping, throbbing bassline and its organ driven, cathedral like lead melody, this is techno that feels fit for the Sistine Chapel.
The presence of muffled vocals is a recurring trend the band uses to augment the downbeat and dreary sound of the album. The technique shows up again on "Pale Flesh." The lead in consists of high pitched, glitchy electronic work that pushes the upper frequencies of your sound system. Alice's voice is so muffled, echoy and reverb coated that it sounds more like a flock of birds frantically fluttering in their cages than an actual human voice. This is one of the most suffocating, bleak and oppressive songs on the disc, but it does soften up a bit here and there so as to allow time for some quiet musing.
Some of their greatest opportunities to honestly affect a listener have come on their more melodic work, and they certainly haven't abandoned that. "Affection," for example, has the heaviest IDM influences and as such resembles the material on II most closely. Like "Celestica," it stakes its reputation on Alice's breathy vocals, and when her voice goes low it is truly one of the most stunning moments on the album.
"Kerosene" is also one of the album's more melodic pieces. Its rumbling, phantasmal bass synth glides into your eardrums like a storm front billowing out of your headphones. It rests on a variety of glitch/IDM lead melodies to augment the effect, along with Alice's crystal clear vocals.
One of the big strengths of III is its diversity "Sad Eyes" is one of the album's heaviest rave pieces. A pulsating bass beat gyrates underneath, creating a hot dance stunner that still manages to evoke a cold emotional spectrum. "Insulin," at just over a minute and a half, follows in the tradition of "Fainting Spells" and "Doe Deer" as one of the most difficult, dissonant, and experimental tracks in their catalog. A liberal static fuzz emotionally distances you from the track, while Glass's voice is garbled far past the point of recognition.
Elsewhere, "Violent Youth" proves Crystal Castles are capable of injecting warmth into a song. With its fun, bouncy beat, it's easily the most upbeat of III's offerings. The low, warbling bass synth from "Kerosene" also shows up in a couple of other tracks, including "Transgender" and "Telepath." "Telepath," the album's only instrumental, goes through a variety of phases. It's very glitchy sounding at first, then becomes more spacey and atmospheric.
Despite its violent title, album closer "Child I Will Hurt You" is quite the opposite of what you might think. Like their previous album closers "I Am Made of Chalk" and "Tell Me What To Swallow" it is much more downbeat and low key, while sounding nothing like either of those songs. "Child I Will Hurt You" presents a mellow, tranquil and peaceful vibe for the first and only time on the album, while the twinkling electronica provides a familiar dreamlike element.
Because each Crystal Castles album is so vastly different from one another, it all comes down to the listeners' own musical preference as to where III will rate in their catalog. This is an album dominated by rave elements, atmospherics, and presents generally cold and bleak but beautiful sonic dimensions. Personally, II is their most consistent album and therefore is a slightly stronger overall. But there are more than a few guy/girl electronic duos around, and none of them are nearly as distinctive as Crystal Castles. They have their own style, and the variety of ways in which they express it on III is truly remarkable. Tragedy doesn't have to be your true love to appreciate that.
I was hoping to not be disappointed, and this album is excellent! The first time I heard Affection was while I was driving with the bass up, and DAMN, what a great song. Ethan is surely underrated as a producer, and what's not to love about Alice's use of her voice?
My favorite album of the year with only a month left to go.
Notable tracks: Affection, Plague, Child I Will Hurt You, Wrath of God
III takes the overall dark feel of II and expands on it, wallows in it and celebrates it. I feel like I am listening to the soundtrack to someone's beautifully haunting dream. Like the last album it wasn't what I was expecting, but like the last album it gets better with every listen. In some ways III reminds me of their first album, it's a little more raw and many of the sounds have a vintage feel due to Ethan using analog equipment. The only problem I have with the album is overt use of reverb on Alice's vocals, it get a little monotonous after awhile. Like the last album, it leaves some of the old CC behind and picks up something new. The greatest asset to the album is the melody and hooks buried beneath the atmosphere. I feel like I'm in a room filled with fog trying to find my way through and that really sums up how I feel about this album. Everything I love about CC is here and that's really all i need.