Crystal Stilts, Alight Of Night (Slumberland, 2008)
In 08, “crystal” has become the new “wolf,” and we have proof: First we had electro-zombies Crystal Castles exploding all over the Internets, getting in all sorts of trouble on tour across the nation, and even accusing Timbaland of stealing one of their beats. Then PFork introduced us to Crystal Antlers, a rough and tumble rock outfit who deliver aggressive sounds akin to Shellac, Les Savy Fav, and the Jesus Lizard — and we must say, they’re pretty exciting.
Which brings us to the third band in the 2008 Crystal Trilogy: Crystal Stilts. Unlike the aforementioned bands, though, Crystal Stilts take a less modern, and much less aggro approach to their cloudy, moody rock songs. Swamped in murky reverb, and accented by vintage sounding Farfisa organ, cheap guitars, and bone-rattling tambourines, Crystal Stilts make a kind of psychedelic and stripped down doom rock that sounds like it could have come out of drug-infused late night sessions with Phil Spector, just as it could of come out of drug-infused late night sessions in the band’s own bedroom (peep “Spiral Transit” for proof, with a “Be My Baby” beat kicking things off nicely). Songs like “Crystal Stilts” and “Prismatic Room” give off the same mock turtleneck and sunglasses-at-night vibe as some of the best work by the Velvet Underground mixed in with the indie-pop quaintness of the Magnetic Fields. Elsewhere, on tracks like the mildly rocking and uptempo “SinKing” and the driving “Bright Night” the band manage to intermingle the sounds of newer acts like Vivian Girls, Aislers Set and the Shins with vintage Kinks, Rolling Stones, and even more tribal, stripped down garage bands like the Gories and the Troggs.
The question always comes, however, when you’re comparing bands to the Velvets, the Kinks, and giving them props for their Phil Spector-esque production techniques: What makes them different? What sets them apart from everybody else? In the case of the Crystal Stilts, the bizarre vocals of head mumbler Brad Hargett is a good place to start. His vocal style is all haunting and half-asleep, coming off like a strange brew of Ian Curtis’ howl (“Departure” may as well be called “Isolation”), Morrissey’s patented moan, Calvin Johnson’s effeminate baritone, and Jonathan Richman’s uncanny ability to not be able to sing, but still be totally awesome anyway. At once, it’s got all the qualities that could turn even the most adventurous listener off, and yet, simultaneously, it’s strangely lulling, inviting the curious to explore the vocal and instrumental combination that Crystal Stilts craft some more. The two can be a frustrating pairing — sometimes you just want to hear what these songs would sound like with a Jagger-esque dude at the mic who could actually sing in key. But that would make Crystal Stilts typical, and they are anything but. As you move through Alight Of Night, Hargett’s place in the ghosty, 60s garage-pop conjured by the rest of the band eventually becomes clear. Crystal clear, in fact. — Ryan Allen