Album Review: Crystal Antlers – Tentacles
FIRST PUBLISHED AT THE LINE OF BEST FIT
Among the many acts hyped in 2008 there was a proliferation of new bands called Crystal something. Crystal Castles, Crystal Stilts and Cystal Antlers all came out of the leftfield to get blog love last year. Having been totally confused by the similarity of these names, particularly the latter two, you’ll have to excuse the fact that Crystal Antlers’ eponymous debut EP rather passed me by last year. ‘Tentacles’, their debut full length, takes its cues from hardcore punk and garage rock, blending it with a kind of frenetic, proggish psychedelia and a lo-fi production aesthetic. Whereas punk and prog have long been seen as mutually exclusive, Crystal Antlers manage to distil something of the former’s expansiveness (unspooling tendrils of guitar solo fight for sonic room with Victor Rodriguz’s organ stabs) into visceral three minute rushes.
Compared to the likes of Comets on Fire and Les Savy Fav, Crystal Antlers have a raw, scuffed production ethic that means a lot of the detail is buried into a wall of noise – an abrasive, ear-splitting sonic register that makes it a little hard to appreciate individual performances. Meanwhile, vocalist Jonny Bell sounds like someone trying to shout down The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas at his most emotive in some sweaty NY nightspot. Despite this, Crystal Antlers are suckers for good melodies – there’s a pop sensibility running throughout ‘Tentacles’, even if it wears itself out over the course of the album. There are few ponderous build-ups – most songs begin and end as if at the peak of a song-cycle – but occasionally the tracks dissolve into welcome and engaging drones that give off a kinetic volatility.
Producer Ikey Owens of Mars Volta allows everything to be piled into the mix in punishing, piledriving slabs of sound, and ‘Tentacles’ often sounds like several bands playing at once, with the listener a bit too close to the speakers. Maybe Crystal Antlers intend to be the equivalent of Wonka’s magic chewing-gum that’s a meal-in-one: tomato soup, roast beef, and blueberry pie, as ‘Tentacles’ sounds at points like being between two stages at a music festival – disparate styles intermingling chaotically. For all the bedlam, songs such ‘Andrew’ are so tangibly emotional, even soulful, that they radiate through the rasping histrionics. The cooing harmonies and (is that a) trumpet add a melodicism to the shrill, howling vortex of ‘Memorized’, but I can’t help wishing it were clearer. There is so much going on in Tentacles’ busy headrush, I wish the producer permitted some more space in the mix to appreciate the constituent parts.