Crystal Castles S/T Review and the Nakamichi Dragon problem

Bands with “Crystal” in their name.

That’s the LP section at Redcat Records where I stumbled across the self-titled album Crystal Castles, around which these musings are based.

Redcat has been my local vinyl/silicon haunt and where for the last 10 years I’ve dumped several thousand dollars on discs of both varieties. It’s where I also sniff around at indie cassettes offered by local bands or electronica keyboard slash synth noodlers. I keep threatening myself with buying one because then I’d have to get a tape deck and I’ve always wanted a Nakamichi Dragon.

Minty Dragons are going for around $2,000 USD on eBay and honestly, a Nakamichi is the last thing I need to drop that kind of coin on because: A) WTF are you doing Rafe, you do not need a tape deck. B) If I turn out my pockets for that deck then can you imagine how many cassettes I’ll have to buy to justify the spend?

The Dragon.

All of which brings me back to the point of all this; Crystal Castles and their 2008 S/T album. I’d bought this on vinyl around a year after it came out and then on CD several years after that. When I brought it home for a listen on my silver spinner I got to thinking about making mix tapes for friends in the ‘90s which sent me back in the logic loop to… the Nakamichi Dragon. So, the other day when I was in my car and listening to Kruder and Dorfmeister and I heard a bridge in one of the tracks that put me instantly in mind of Crystal Castles, I thought to myself; I gotta listen to that album again. And alternately; I should check and see what Dragons are going for on eBay.

But before I dive into the electro-sonic assault that this album is, a little background on this Canadian duo is in order. CC is comprised of Alice Glass and Ethan Kath who formed the band in Toronto in 2006 after meeting in ’04 when Kath asked Glass to lay down vocals on several tracks that he’d been putting together since ’03 (Glass has since departed). Reaction to the finalized songs was positive and the pair formed Crystal Castles soon after – they pulled the name off an episode of She-Ra: Princess of Power and ended up in that aforementioned section at Redcat – why I decided to flip through it I’ll never know.

Kath behind the electronics and Glass on the mic.

The next couple of years saw a number of seven-inch singles get pressed and quickly sell-out through smaller indie labels like Trouble Records in the UK before pretty much everything the two had recorded up to that point got scooped up by Lies Records and released on CD and 12-inch vinyl. This harvest of seven-inch hits along with three brand-new cuts comprised the S/T effort – one of these new tracks was “XXZXCUZX ME” which I love and my girlfriend describes as “…the most annoying sounds ever.” Funny because Kath admitted that some songs “were deliberately designed to be grating.” Regardless, this debut effort made it onto NME’s list of The Top 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade – coming in at No.39.

The opening cut – “Untrust Us” is a nod to what you can expect for the next 52 minutes; a sparse sonic landscape of Japanese arcade throwbacks with monophonic 8-bit sampled Atari-5200 loops interspersed between skull-pounding programmed drums/percussion and suffocating layers of descending/minor-chord synth, keyboard, screaming/auto-tuned vocals and a Spector-inspired Wagnerian wall of sound. This is the type of album that will immediately tell you if your system is tilted to either frequency extreme in the least. Treble/upper registers can be etched through a system that is not transparency or resolution-balanced with midrange weight, bounce, tonal color, timbral bloom or texture. The bottom end will alert you to room resonance issues – and a lack of rail current in your amp could cause bottom-end drift among the lower octaves.

This is not a traditional audiophile recording, don’t expect to put this on and listen with friends – not that kind of album – it is, to me, however, strangely relaxing. I did all my listening for this review via the TIDAL 16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC version. And actually, since it is more suited to solo listening you could classify it as audiophile. YMMV. This is a bass heads album and alternates between synth-punk, noise, disco and house being run through a liberal washing machine of electronica. It is possessed of excellent production value and when listened to on the merit of the songwriting and production skills required to record an album of such alternately disconsolate wasteland and punk fury, you quickly realize both the sonic and emotional appeal of Crystal Castles. Thank god for me that it was never released on cassette or this would have turned out to be a Nakamichi Dragon review rather than an album one.

Top standout tracks for me among the LP’s 16 cuts include “Untrust Us,” “Crimewave,” the aforementioned “XXZXCUZX ME,” “Air War,” and “Knights,” (reminiscent of later Daft Punk).

Now… back to eBay to see what those Nakamichi’s are going for.

ednaz's picture

You set up my playlist for a long afternoon of photo editing!