Music Reviews

Crystal Castles III

(Casablanca) Rating - 8/10

The general public usually favors female pop stars that are slightly unhinged yet proper, edgy with a theatrical wild streak. But put them in front of one who will show contempt for them and question their moral compass and you’ve instantly crossed the parameters of permissible behavior. That’s what makes Crystal Castles frontwoman Alice Glass such a compelling figure – she’s ferocious in her delivery, always confrontational in subject matter and unwilling to make herself an easy target – even to her most adoring fans. Behind her antagonistic stance, Glass is actually a strong advocate of female empowerment, one who’ll vocally show her discontent for both the sexist disparity of the workforce and whatever edible treat Katy Perry decides to cover her big naturals with these days.

Of course, Glass would never have reached such a degree of boisterousness without her partner Ethan Kath, whose beat making clamor perfectly complements her message of hopelessness. And while Crystal Castles have certainly matured from their jagged 8-bit beginnings, it’s Glass who displays more prominence as opposed to the more attention-seeking background noise of their earlier efforts. It’s still a challenge to really discern what she has to say over all the mucky acid drench, so it’s best to try to follow the lyric sheet if not wholly consumed by their heady, responsive rave bangers.

III strictly goes through two motions, both in tangent with each other: in Plague, a languid house groove tenebrously coasts as Glass frantically cries over a barrage of sharp, throbbing synths: infants in infantry/rewrite their history/uproot their colony/you’re ripe for harvesting. It pierces with a forward thrust, whereas a track like Violent Youth is more even tempered, taking into account a far more streamlined, rhythmically driving form of repetition. These two kinds of song are what the duo previously based their work on II around, and they find themselves progressing rather than simply just repeating the formula due to their willingness to shed some corners on their more adventitious tendencies. One could do without the mercurial, knob-twiddling crunk of Pale Flesh, which pauses the commotion halfway through and creates more of a disturbance. But this one can’t be debated – crunk is in their blood.

Glass continually manipulates her emotions like a swinging pendulum, never seeming to stay in a calm center. She’ll perfectly contrast lights with darks, and she does this knowing that its final outcome is always putrid, any sense of hope burned in grayed dust. She barks at the practice of kindness in “Wrath of God: Sterilize samaritans/contravene loyal ties/they'll strip you off your heritage, a frank allusion to manifestations of intolerance and class hatred. Once you discern its words, you see that the inner context couldn’t be any more explicit: in the apocalyptic, almost movie blockbuster anti-symphony of Mercenary, she points the finger at those who masquerade as saviors but hold a hidden agenda: let the trespassers stay/decorate starving strays/you cannot convert me. Even the album’s bounciest track, Sad Eyes (which is easily this year’s Celestica), alludes to the burka as a symbol of oppression.

Rarely is an electronic album sparked with such radical confidence. And yet most listeners will only take III at face value, but is there any fault in that? Glass writes obtuse enough so that it lends itself to open interpretation, with a matter of fact tone that never veers on either conspiratorial or cynical speculation. Crystal Castles are very much aware that their music elicits a sense of release, and they do that by writing a record that’s equally profound in both sound and meaning. It may send a mixed message to those who experience their rousing dance hall of dread. But once you’re in it, it’ll eat you up like a plague.