What’s that, moribund music fan? Not sure whether you’re going to like the new Crystal Castles album? Well, don’t fret. There’s a simple test. Did you like the last one? Live, Crystal Castles surprise. A litany of security guards and moronic crowd members with wandering hands and soon to be broken noses will attest to that. But on record, not so much. Despite having the demeanour of those who would throw Molotov cocktails first and worry about causes later, for Alice Glass and Ethan Kath it has been evolution, rather than revolution.
So III, the first of their albums to be produced solely by Kath, is glossier and less abrasive than II, which was glossier and less abrasive than the debut. It’s a subtle shift, a balancing act and a Goldlockian equation: too hot, too cold, just right.
II was just about right. III is a bit too cold. You miss those occasions where it felt like Glass was trying to climb her way out of the speakers and rip your throat out and where Kath seemed less concerned with a tune and instead focussed on letting you know what a thousand baby Nintendos being lowered into a vat of acid sounded like.
III isn’t totally devoid of them – Insulin is a spectacular thunderstorm of distortion that makes your eyeballs shudder and the laser-beam synths and blood-curdling screams of Plague are as close as this album gets to recreating the caustic impact of Doe Deer or Alice Practice, but they’re infrequent. More often than not, the default stance of III is one of dreamy thoughtfulness.
Even when narrowing her eyes and baring her teeth, Glass is less terrifying and more terrified. It’s almost as if after two albums of nihilistic rage she’s gone, “‘ere Ethan. All this not believing in anything, it’s a bit depressing, innit?”. So she spends far more of the time cowering in the shadows cooing at you, and far less time tapping you on the shoulder and questioning if you spilt her pint.
But while the expectation is that they’re lulling you into a false sense of security, they never go on and stick the knife in. And the false sense of security soon becomes an actual sense of security. Which makes a lot of III delicate, pleasant and not vastly exciting. The woozy Affection, the spaced out Transgender and the almost instrumental Telepath pass by without ever capturing your attention.
It isn’t what you’d expect with Crystal Castles. Normally you’re left wondering at what point in proceedings they’re going to try and set fire to your carpet. There are still tracks on here which impress – Sad Eyes is immense, Wrath Of God brilliant – and you’d have to say that III is a good Crystal Castles album. But given that II was a great Crystal Castles album, the trend isn’t going the way that you’d hope.