Crystal Castles CRYSTAL CASTLES [Universal Motown]


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Like some tenacious, self-replicating bacteria, Torontonian duo Crystal Castles now has two self-titled records. They're hardly the first perpetrators of this nomenclatural laziness (think Weezer), but on their new release, the retreading is worrisome.

This isn't to say the album is a clone of its predecessor. Indeed, it's a harsher affair all around, shriller and buzzier than the band's motley but enchanting 2008 debut. The new record starts out strong, earning weird points with the distorted shrieking on "Doe Deer." But Castles 2.0 peaks too early - the fourth track, "Baptism," is a brilliant number, with airy synth volleys and Alice Glass's best shouty vocals, so low in the mix it sounds like she's submerged in water.

After this is when the repetitive album title starts to resonate as a bad omen. Castles 1.0 existed in a glitchy sonic microcosm that, though not exclusive territory, seemed to set Crystal Castles apart from the herd. Instead, this album is disappointingly uniform, sounding more redundant than cohesive. The tracks are formidable - there are good songs here, especially the vocal distortion playground of "Vietnam" - but they're all buzz and blip and Glass's dead-robot vocals. This might work for dance parties or mixtapes, but it's mediocre album listening.

There are occasional moments where the album's crunchy electro aesthetic breaks down and an iciness seeps in, as at the end of "Suffocation" or during the aforementioned synth passages of "Baptism." It's these nuggets of glassy simplicity that recall the novelty of first hearing Castles 1.0 opener "Untrust Us." Something in the duo's music is absolutely unearthly, and hopefully they will find new uses for that transcendence in the future. Here, though, it's all swaddled in the obvious.

-Sam Stander

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