It’s almost three years since Crystal Fighters released their debut album, Star Of Love, to a good, if somewhat mixed, reception. While their unique style drew praise from several quarters, the overwhelming verdict was that Crystal Fighters’ first record was confused and chaotic. Star Of Love saw the English/Spanish five-piece attempt to fuse an eclectic range of styles, including an interesting mix of Basque folk music with electronic elements.
Although the results were inconsistent, singles Xtatic Truth and I Love London did show that the potential was there for Crystal Fighters to make something special if they could just focus their energy. And it seems that the band took on board the criticism of their first album when embarking on their new effort, Cave Rave. The title may suggest otherwise, but Crystal Fighters’ second album is much more pop orientated than its predecessor.
It kicks off with the uplifting Wave, a song that demonstrates exactly how Crystal Fighters have managed to refine their sound and trim the rough edges from Star Of Love. The sun-drenched synths and rumbling beat combine perfectly with frontman Sebastian Pringle’s raspy vocals, before the song lifts off on the chorus, as he sings: “We’re riding on a wave babe/ We’re on the same wave.” The summery vibes don’t end there, either, with Cave Rave full of feel good songs.
LA Calling continues the impressive start, capturing the new-found focus and emphasis on melody that dominates Cave Rave. The shuffling drum beat and snappy riff give the song an almost tropical sound, with another anthemic chorus growing towards a joyous sing-along in the final minute. It is one of many songs on the record that sounds virtually tailor-made for the festival season, with the combination of infectious melodies and energetic choruses likely to be a hit this summer.
While the mash of genres on Star Of Love made it overcomplicated at times, Cave Rave sees Crystal Fighters simplify everything. That’s not to say they have distilled the uniqueness that marked them out in the first place, just that they have toned it down second time around. Songs such as the buoyant Love Natural and the enchanting You & I still utilise a range of different instruments, but they work together in harmony, rather than clashing.
The closest Crystal Fighters come to the electro-driven sounds of Star Of Love is on Separator and Are We One, where they return to the throbbing synths that were the backbone of their debut. It’s not an unwelcome return, either, with Are We One’s addictive chorus an album highlight. Elsewhere, Crystal Fighters show a surprisingly more delicate side, most notably with the piano ballad Bridge Of Bones. It’s probably the most stripped back the band have ever sounded, complete with an emotive big finish.
Although it’s an interesting change, Crystal Fighters don’t quite pull it off. The same can be said of These Nights and closer Everywhere, with both songs sounding a bit dull. The hushed vocals on These Nights combined with the strummed acoustics are enough to send anyone to sleep, while expansive synths on Everywhere – as well as the rather cheesy lyrics – means it finishes the album off with a bit of a whimper.
Yet, despite the disappointing finish, Crystal Fighters’ return marks a clear progression from Star Of Love. The first half of Cave Rave, in particular, shows just how impressive they can be when they don’t try to do too much. The album feels like one whole, in contrast to their admittedly thrilling, but fragmented, debut record. Had Crystal Fighters not taken their foot of the pedal towards the end, Cave Rave could have been their breakthrough album. Instead, it’s just a very good one.