Friday, 13 September 2013

Crystal Stilts - Nature Noir


New York City, the place where music never sleeps. The sheer size and density of NYC makes for great musicians. You're never too far from a jazz performance in a cafe, or a free concert. I've visited NYC two summers in a row now. Both times have been magical, not just the personal benefactor, but because of NYC's music history that dates back to when popular music was just starting to become huge in America. Government funded performances are as common as mosquitos at night. Each and every performance has a backdrop of skyscraper's / tall ships / the statue of liberty - NYC is truly the most inspirational city for music in America. No band has left their mark on NYC's scene more than The Velvet Underground. Ever since Warhol's project began in 1964, artists have been dying to grasp that NYC imagery, that D.I.Y. aesthetic that was the one true influence on punk/new wave. Music has never been the same since The Velvet Underground. The 70s in NYC has to be the most important and influential time period and location - without it there would be no review today. It's not just New York Dolls and Patti Smith, its Suicide, Talking Heads, and Sonic Youth. Without these exceptional artists, the 'revival' period of the 00s would never have happened, and Interpol wouldn't have released their euphorius debut album Turn on the Bright Lights, featuring a homage to the city, the life, the music - "NYC". The Strokes happened, Brand New, Yeah Yeah Yeahs', and more recently LCD Soundsystem, Vampire Weekend, The National, and Crystal Stilts.

Crystal Stilts defined their sound in 2008 with debut album Alight of Night - a sinister noise pop record that bravely went where every post-punk band has gone before. They relied on history to take them forward, fortunately for them this was Slumberland Records. Crystal Stilts didn't quite have a completed sound in 2008, and that stuck with their sophomore album in 2011 In Love with Oblivion. They've been stuck in a loop of ambiguity for quite some time, till now - Crystal Stilts have finally found there sound on third album Nature Noir. It's no Joy Division re-hash, or a Editors/Interpol post punk-revival sound. They've separated themselves from that scene by releasing some consistently distinctive material since In Love With Oblivion. The Radiant Door EP really took the quintet that extra mile structure wise. Pinning Crystal Stilts' sound down to one specific is just as hard as finding a place to put your David Bowie records... Like, where is there a shelf big enough and welcoming enough to have just one row of Bowie albums, seriously... Whoever you decide to place your Crystal Stilts albums amongst, it will be simplistic, have a reliance on guitars, with a keen sense of confusion and anonymity as the recording process of Nature Noir suggests.

Song-writer/vocalist Brad Hargett writes Crystal Stilts songs without allowing his band companions to listen or even understand before they get in to the studio. There’s no fixed idea about what JB Townsend, Kyle Forester etc. want to get out of the sessions lyrically. It's like a split decision between applying an instrumental to a set of lyrics. Hargett is a breed of song-writers that have this ability to cross moods with vocal styles. It's a desperate cry, making the emotions of the human body pointless. One listen to any of Crystal Stilts' records will show you how low and pessimistic Hargett can be - Nature Noir is no different. Take the stunningly beautiful pre-release single "Star Crawl". It puts across Crystal Stilts' effort in the studio, crafting a down to earth, melodically neat sound. There's no if's or but's with Nature Noir, it's straight up, face value. What you hear is what you get, as with the opener "Spirit In front of Me". There's reversed guitar riffs reminiscent of a band attempting to sound raga rock in the style of my favourite Beatles song "Tomorrow Never Knows", but with a blunt urgency like Spacemen 3 had in 1987 with two chords and a wall of sound penetrating audiences' ears.

"Future Folklore" is a hybrid if I've ever heard one. It takes the lead guitar and percussion of Mark E. Smith's The Fall circa 1985, and the three chord post-punk /art rock rhythm guitar and vocals from Jonathan Richmann circa 1976. two and a half minutes of pure rock and Crystal Stilts energy cannot be undone by a history of great music. Crystal Stilts are not just re-inventing a period of music, they're completely re-writing it. Take "Sticks and Stones", a light-hearted track in the midst of forceful side A. It captures the soft innocence of Hargett's song-writing, without throwing the guitar overboard - likewise with "Memory Room".

Nature Noir isn't an album to be half-arsing. Crystal Stilts require your full attention, especially on the back half of their third album. "Worlds’ Gone Weird" showcases an interesting instrumental, with great lead guitar progressions, but like with some of the past Crystal Stilts' albums, it doesn't seem to go places like "Future Folklore", or "Star Crawl". The further down in Nature Noir you listen, the more it sounds like a Jefferson Airplane reunion. "Darken The Door" has those flamboyant 60s percussion sounds and upbeat rhythmic guitar that plagued Surrealistic Pillow in 1967. Are just going to pretend Hargett hasn't been going for that deep reverberated Signe Toly Anderson vocals all these years? Well I’m not. He clearly has his influences right in front of him as he writes, and as he records with the music makers of Crystal Stilts. This 'morning maniac' style of music would fit the psychedelic sounds of the 60s, but it's less than impressive in 2013 where synthesizers have all but replaced the need for raw guitar music. Still, we'll always have the heavy, guitar rock sounds of reciprocated years, but not in the original, innovative sense as Joy Division had in the late 70s, or The Stooges in the 60s, or Chuck Berry in the 50s.

Crystal Stilts are not a gimmicky one of sound, they’re more like the 70s influence that's always been intended. Those dark themes laid down by Echo & The Bunnymen have always been on the cards with Crystal Stilts - this isn't to say a modern influence hasn't been taken in to account, because it has. Unfortunately, Nature Noir fails to fails to deliver the goods. The New York City rockers do rock, and their great instrumentation is extremely mouth-watering at times. "Spirit In Front of Me" has all the ingredients for a perfect post-2002 indie rock anthem, but like most Crystal Stilts' tracks, it doesn't go anywhere. There's the journey, but absolutely no direction. They play their music great, there’s no disputing their talent as musicians and as song-writers. There's just not enough here, I’m calling out for more and more, but they just keep delivering the same. It's almost what's wanted, just off the mark yet again and they will be for quite some time if they don't work out how to finish a song / instrumental. Crystal Stilts are a band that suffers from the fade out because they don't write and record together as a unit. When theirs individualism included in the process, the formulae changes, you get lacklustre material. The last three tracks on Nature Noir are completely forgettable and aimless. There needs to be more organ and far more intensity on the organ like with the Radiant Door EP in 2011. Crystal Stilts have improved as artists all round, I’d just like to of heard more material like "Dark Eyes" and "Still as the Night". At the end of the day, this is still a decent album, just not at all original or interesting beyond the first three tracks.
~Eddie

6.0

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