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Friday, November 16, 2012

Crystal Castles: (III) (Release Date: 11-13-2012)

        Celestica, the premiere single off Crystal Castles' 2010 sophomore effort (II), must have prompted quite the outcry from the group's devotees when it first dropped. Alice Glass' vocals, manipulated and indecipherable throughout almost the entirety of their 2008 debut, was suddenly up front-and-center, cooing longingly in a lush whisper. The instrumentals made the shift even more evident, scatter-shot electro-mania replaced by full-bodied waves of pulsating House. The track had all the tell-tale signs of a band selling-out, save one key ingredient; it didn't suck. As a matter of fact, it totally rocked, and where (II) swerved back and forth between these cleaner, more dance-friendly sonics and the break-neck insanity of the disc that came before it, (III) boldly moves forth with the smoothing out of the duo's sound.

        This is not to say that old Crystal Castles has gone soft on us, of course. Glass still screams nearly as often as she swoons, snarling ferociously over the choppy-water beat of Insulin, her aggression provocatively veiled under a distancing veneer on early single Plague. Her bandmate Ethan Kath isn't exactly sleeping through this one either, pulling the strings on the muscly wobble that is Kerosene, standing proudly on his own during club-ready solo outing Telepath. Yes, this is still very much within Crystal Castles' wheelhouse, blaring, staggered synths set to blazing neon, Glass ever channelling all of the animal magnetism the world has to offer. And while the maintaining of sensibilities and sounds is certainly worth celebrating, (III) is most interesting for what sets it apart from the band's previous two LPs.

        While both (I) and (II) were almost dance records in spite of themselves, (III)'s rug-cutting ambitions are far more pronounced. The enormous, no-prisoner-taking Sad Eyes is probably already playing at raves the country over, surely sending many a glow-stick flying into the air. There's also a far greater precedent on songwriting: The varied, evolving beats of Transgender and Violent Youth prove far more varied than anything we've previously heard. The band even dabbles in some almost bubble-gummy pop, both Affection and Child I Will Hurt You proving highlights without ever having to raise their voices. (III) is undoubtably less immediate than its forbearers, who each made most of their bones on crackling energy and explosive excitement. It's a disc that realizes how subtle changes can almost reinvent the wheel, hosing off some of their more fiery impulses, and replacing them with a more contemplative, denser sense of craft. Call it selling out all you want; I call it growing up.

Grade: B+

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