When the original singer of a group announces their departure, expectations of their material from then onwards are naturally lowered. Such was the case when Toronto two piece electronic outfit Crystal Castles lost frontwoman Alice Glass in 2014.
Their first release since new singer Edith Frances replaced Glass, however, works rather well in the absence of her eccentric, enigmatic predecessor. The album places a lot of emphasis on the music, with the rather sparse vocals drowning in a sea of reverberated effects, rendering Frances incoherent and taking a back seat to Ethan Kath’s musical experimentation. Because this is very much Kath’s album.
Largely, the album retains that eerie, hypnotic electro sound that put Crystal Castles on the map in the first place. Influences from all over the board are drawn. ‘Frail’ bears resemblance to a late ’90s house track, and the image of a night in Ibiza is embedded in the mind upon listening, while ‘Char’, probably the poppiest number on the album, has a very Chvrches feel to it. ‘Teach Her How To Hunt’ is essentially two minutes of white noise, as strange noises swim in and out of a sustained single note on a synthesiser. Meanwhile, lead single ‘Fleece’ is about as radio un-friendly as it can get for a group that has led the way in popularising electronic music in the 2010’s. A minimalistic up-down drumbeat provides the backbone for the loud/quiet/loud dynamic, with the main hook, for want of a better word, being frantic synths that jump all over the place.
The album’s production shoves the weird sounds that Crystal Castles have always prided themselves on right in your face. Despite the music being a nightmarish mess, everything is coherent and the many tracks and layers stand out. In particular, ‘Chloroform’, a creepily slow paced number, and ‘Ornament’, one of the less darker songs in tone, exemplify such strong craftsmanship. The aforementioned use of reverb on Frances’ voice gives her singing a rather ethereal, ghastly feel to it, one which is perfectly suited the overall tone of the album.
Some argue that the departure of Glass marked the end of Crystal Castles, but with Kaith still at the helm, the loyalty of those fans who decide to stick around will be rewarded with this atmospheric showcase of musical innovation.