Album Reviews

Crystal Stilts – In Love With Oblivion

(Fortuna POP!) UK release date: 11 April 2011

The phrase In Love With Oblivion can be taken as a symbol for a general resurgence more than just a catchy title. Over the past few years a generation of Americans has grown increasingly attached to the historic traditions of goth-rock and post-punk that never made it to their shores. This trend was best captivated by Cold Cave‘s recent album Cherish The Light Years which, as so perfectly put by Pitchfork’s Mark Richardson, “feels like a John Hughes film projected on an IMAX theater”. The nostalgic passion of the songs transcended any barriers of redundancy and transformed into a sort-of avatar of an era. Crystal Stilts are trying the same thing here. In Love With Oblivion is a decidedly murkier take on the same sound, but still cuts to the same core of rosy remembrance.

Everything about the record sounds excavated; the decrepit guitars, the stoic percussion, dissolved keyboards, but especially Brad Hargett’s miles-deep bellow. The muddy mix often puts him well within the soupiness of his band, but when he’s allowed to sing he’s got a commanding, almost endearing personality. The twitchy surf-rock of opener Sycamore Tree has him adapting a guise not too far from someone like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins while remaining seductively ambiguous throughout. Hargett conjures a list of peculiar imagery, a ghostly girl following our protagonist to the sea before leaving us with a repeated “I want to know why”. While in most scenarios a conclusion-less respite like that would be forgotten immediately, here it generates a surprisingly deep connection to the characters involved – we do want to know why.

Crystal Stilts cycle through some other styles, like the seven minute dirge Alien Rivers, or the sloppy reverb-jam Blood Barons, but the best moments are when the band lets their knack for glinting grave-pop show. The crystal-strewn guitar sounds of Silver Sun are absolutely enthralling, as with the cascading, garbage-can garage of Precarious Stair. Its par for the course for an audience to connect with bands like these the more they sound like The Smiths – but that doesn’t change the vitality of their melodies.

But the most impressive thing about In Love With Oblivion is its naturally nocturnal atmosphere. Occasionally Crystal Stilts transport the listener into a virtual halloweentown, a headspace where their heroes like Mark E Smith and Ian Curtis probably spent the bulk of their time. Crickets literally chirp in the burgeoning moments of Alien Rivers. The cover features a dense half-moon hovering along with a starry sky, and hell, their equally opaque previous record was called Alight Of Night. Crystal Stilts aren’t messing with the formula, but their drowned take on this subgenre’s epochal strain stands out among the bulk of fellow imitators. Of course maybe one day Crystal Stilts will completely drain out all the haze and we’ll be able to talk about them more as a band rather than a product of influences. Wishful thinking, perhaps.

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More on Crystal Stilts
Crystal Stilts – Nature Noir
Crystal Stilts – In Love With Oblivion
Crystal Stilts @ Luminiare, London
Crystal Stilts – Alight Of Night
Crystal Stilts @ Lexington, London