By Crystal Stilts
Brooding Brooklyn-based quintuplet Crystal Stilts made waves in 2008 with their debut album 'Alight of Night.' The group attracted acclaim from critics who complimented their downbeat lyrical subject matter, brusque guitar sound and reverb-heavy production. But not everyone was convinced of the group's modest greatness, with some critics condemning the band for borrowing too heavily from classic lo-fi bands such as The Velvet Underground and The Jesus and Mary Chain.
They returned in April this year with the release of their second album 'In Love with Oblivion,' a record which features songs soaked in melody and sadness and which showcases just how much the group has evolved since the release of their debut long-player.
The album opens with a flourish of distortion, noises of unknown origin whirring about a mysterious soundscape and putting our senses on red alert. It isn't long before 'Sycamore Tree's' simple two-note bassline slithers in, briskly followed by the song's memorable riff, a playfully effortless succession of harshly plucked notes. The ambiguousness of the lyrics entices the listener to pick apart frontman Brad Hargett's words as whispers of magic, seduction and tongue-tying prove mystifying and hypnotic.
'Through the Floor,' with its grimy guitar stabs and swinging drum and bass section, reveals a band happy to experiment with different rhythms. Hargett almost croons his way through the track and sounds on top form, the chorus lingering in the listener's mind long after 'Through the Floor's' conclusion.
All the music on the album crackles with an addictive energy which is perfectly complimented by Hargett's heartbreaking vocal delivery. It has been said that Hargett can't sing, but there is no doubt that his voice, like a missing jigsaw piece, fits seamlessly into the group's sound. There is also a marked improvement in his delivery, range and pitch since 'Alight of Night.' But this is hardly the point; Hargett uses his voice, first and foremost, to express his inner struggles and his success in this endeavour is undeniable.
Hargett's lyrics evoke a similar level of melancholy, best demonstrated on album standout 'Shake the Shackles,' where he pleads with his listeners, "When will we discover where we buried love?"
'Silver Sun' radiates with unexpected warmth, something seldom seen elsewhere on 'In Love with Oblivion.' The song's glittery guitar licks tingle over a simple, affective chord sequence while complimentary piano keys melts in the heat of the song's summery vibe. 'Silver Sun' provides the album with its most pop-like track, but Crystal Stilts are a band whose music always hides a sharper edge and the sound of a crashing car and lyrics dealing with loss and longing draw us back into the dark world the band inhabit.
The album isn't without its setbacks though. The reverb on Hargett's vocals is needlessly distracting and can sometimes drown out his lyrics. 'Alien Rivers' is perhaps the album's weakest track. At over 7 minutes in length but without any real need to be, this Doors-like plodder has its moments of brilliance - the bassline, Hargett's baritone growl - but could have been omitted or shortened. But for the most part, 'In Love with Oblivion' is sublime; playing it is sometimes like dusting off an old forgotten classic.
Another album highlight is 'Blood Barons,' the album's penultimate track. Aggressively thrashed and roughly bellowed, the song is pleasingly limber and loose; a going-out song custom-built to stir up emotion and get the blood pumping. Breaking down in the middle into quiet static and nimble keyboard swirls, the song bursts back for a final showdown before abruptly dying.
'In Love with Oblivion' is a surprising record in its freshness and unexpected changes of direction. Crystal Stilts tackle previously avoided rhythms whilst maintaining their original appeal and singer Brad Hargett shows improvement in his vocal range. Better than their debut, 'In Love with Oblivion' is a great album in its own right, but one which also hints at what's to come from Crystal Stilts: exciting, experimental guitar pop with a dark side.