Music Reviews

Crystal Antlers Tentacles

(Touch and Go) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

Painless Sleep
, the first track on Tentacles, is a red herring. Victor Rodriguez begins with a clumsy triplet figure on the organ while the other players politely wait their turn to join in. In due time, Kevin Stuart and Damian Edwards are keeping time in slender rolls and mildly acrobatic but unobtrusive fills, and the paired guitars soon emerge heavy yet relatively discreet, distinguishable until the final, dispersive moments of the track. Sleep culminates in a fairly clean and well-seamed gallop, introducing Crystal Antlers as a careful, finely textured, and strangely coherent post-punk-psych outfit.

The next track, Dust, also begins with the organ, but here there is no build, nothing gradual and pensive, nothing remotely finessed. The organ knocks with four bars of firm quarter notes, and on bar five the door gets kicked the fuck in: all at once drum rolls are flailing desperately like headless snakes, guitars are smoldering and sky-scraping, cymbals are peeling patches of iron static, Johnny Bell is gargling the low-end and shouting through a hole in his neck. But after barely 15 seconds of manic marauding the Antlers pull the chute and dig their heels in a mid-tempo groove, with Bell pushing the phlegm into high gear as the licks stain the ceiling and the drums shuttle between hard pummel and elbow-evaporation. None of this lasts for long: Dust is a perpetual relapse, bounding back and forth from dense fury-punk to bleary-eyed power-psych before collapsing out of sheer exhaustion.

Taken together, Sleep and Dust appear as Tentacles’ opening bait-and-switch: the first track presents Antlers as a neat mass of distinct players, a hint of how this band might sound (read: neat but unremarkable) if they privileged precision the way they do roaring tumult, agonizing pathos, and the hoarding of lung-butter. Dust, on the other hand, is a rousing fit of heavy-hearted whiplash, a proper emblem to this wounded juggernaut of a record. The song’s pacing is a condensed and particularly manic primer for the basic structural parameters of the album that follows. Tentacles is a dizzy dance of eerily textured groove and wigged-out, propulsive cacophony, yet this formula never sounds apish or lazy, but rather highlights, as per the promise of last year’s EP, that this group more interested in the finer degrees of turbulence than those of craft and clarity.

Tentacles is gutsy and unstable, the sound of a living, heaving whole that seems to have gobbled its own parts and spit up something rugged, righteous, and happily amorphous. I’ve had Beowulf on the brain these days, hence my perhaps over-indulgent treatment of Crystal Antlers as lurking-beast, a la Grendel, one of Beowulf’s gruesome foes. Suffice it to say that Tentacles sounds more like the work of an “it” than that of a “they,” its overall power awesome, unhinged, and difficult to pin. And like Grendel’s insatiable blood-thirst and gruesome violence, this record’s most potentially upsetting features are pivotal to its unique charm: the trebly production suits the Antlers’ piercing clutter to a tee; Bell’s murky vocals are stirring and evocative by virtue of their indecipherability, a la the Ian Curtis dictum “No language, just sound”; Rodriguez’s organ, an insanely loaded sonic-signifier that is untreated and prominent throughout, is somehow transformed into a potent lead instrument without overshadowing the whole sound , lock-stepping as mere window dressing, or seeming at all schlocky or anachronistic.

With my batshit Beowulf analog I run the risk of grossly under representing the deep emotional weight that saturates this record. But if you read Beowulf closely, you will come to realize that at times the monstrous figures that are conventionally read as heartless, antagonistic blood-gluttons are just as sympathetic and appealing as the sword-swinging warriors who are generally understood to be the poem’s heroes. The same principle hold for Tentacles:  the Crystal Antlers’ debut is a flesh-fattened cloud prowler emanating a strange, jilted tenderness, a record whose devastating expressive weight is amplified, not obscured, by its deranged, frayed-edge make-up. The term “gutting,” which I picked up during my 6 month stay in the UK, equates deep emotional sundering with gruesome disembowelment. If there is a more fitting term for the overall effect of Tentacles, then my name is Hrothgar.