If Crystal Castles’ duo of Alice Glass and Ethan Kath danced near the edge of despair in their first releases, (I) and (II), in their latest effort, (III), they take the plunge.
Producer Kath toys less with the bleepy 8-bit sound that characterized their debut, which had a threateningly manic feel, like a party animal about to snap. Instead, both he and frontwoman Glass—who tends to alternate between screaming and warbling—have made a record that sounds like a natural extension of the ideas they introduced in their sophomore effort. The background noise is still characterized by electronic synths, but they are smoother and more subdued, shifting midway through songs and progressing melodically. Glass’ vocals sound submerged and sad, often hiding behind Kath’s enveloping mix. This makes them fit into Glass’ suggested theme of “being oppressed”; her vocals do not fight the synthesized loops, but rather, submit to their persistence.
Crystal Castles’ success has always stemmed from their ability to twist the characteristically upbeat genre of electronic dance music into something dark and melancholy, and (III) pulls off this combination in a sonically exciting way. The songs aren’t as radically inventive as before, but this helps them sound more assured and balanced, rather than stale.
Overall, a pattern has emerged in the duo’s album structure, which (III) maintains with an abrasive, dissonant track (“Insulin”), a catchy single (“Wrath of God”), and a languid, lullaby ending (“Child I Will Hurt You”). (III) continues to prove that Crystal Castles is unrivalled in their ability to make their listeners enthusiastically nod their heads to such depressing material.