Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles II (2010)

Date Released: April 23, 2010 (digital), May 24, 2010
Album Genre: Electronic, Industrial, Experimental, Synthpop
Album Rating: 8/10

An album review written by an electro-house blogger on experimental 8-bit electronic music, this is bound to stir up some problems despite how close the two genres are. Let’s just get this out of the way first, I never liked Alice Practice nor did I like any of the tracks that resembled it in Crystal Castles‘ debut album although there were many tracks I did like such as Air War, Vanished, Good Time, Magic Spells and the like. It was the overuse of glitchy 8-bit bleeps and scratchy over-bass beats that despite the fact was or is Crystal Castles’ staple sound just didn’t rub me the right way which to my surprise are the exact sounds Crystal Castles toned down in their once again self-titled sophomore album. They also broadened their music to touch on other genres such as synthpop which really worked in their favor rather than depending solely on their niche of 8-bit sounds like remixes off of an 80’s game soundtracks. The novelty wore off pretty quickly.

The album starts off with two quite opposite sounding songs; first track Fainting Spells seems to leave off from their first album and slowly sheds their old sounds. The vocals are so far in the background that I’d consider this an instrumental track of electric static followed by their first single Celestica, which to me feels like it quickly jumps away from their whole experimental edge into synthpop with Alice Glass in a sea of electronic ambiance sounds. The third track Doe Deer which everyone loves, just like they adore Alice Practice, I hated. At first I thought it was just a bad quality rip of the actual track, but I was mistaken. Fortunately, that is the last of that in this album, the rest is pure gold.

The club friendly tracks which includes Baptism is a great mix of everything Crystal Castles is, a little taste if everything from that 8-bit sound to the low bass beats which I actually really enjoyed. Year of Silence is a similar sounding track with an even deeper bass where Kath looped vocals sampled from Sigur Rós’ song Inní mér syngur vitleysingur which I would’ve never guessed the combination but it’s genius the way it is done. It has to be one of my favorite tracks in the album. In Empathy, they took the industrial route, it is all I heard throughout the track and is just another example of the diversity they put within this album. An almost peaceful track ironically labeled Suffocation is very soothing to the ears. Alice Glass’s voice is distorted to point where it sounds serene. Diving into an 80’s retro feel, the new wave synth sound is quite prominent in Violent Dreams and Vietnam with Kath once again distorting Alice Glass’s voice this time with quite the opposite effect using her voice simply as an instrument. Birds is a pretty raw sounding track sounding almost punk or electro punk if you will. I found Pap Smear interesting not only because of the title and lyrics, but because Alice Glass’s voice isn’t really even distorted in some way other than an echo. That’s strange coming from Crystal Castles, I kind of like it.

Hot and cold, both musically and lyrically Not In Love and Intimate one after the other is an interesting choice they took for track placement. Both reminded me yet again like those two previous tracks like something of a retro feel, it’s all I see. An 80’s romantic action movie with a synth soundtrack, I could not have asked for a better closing to the album. Intimate is quite the rush of electric sounds to the ears, I only have one word to describe this track; intense. I would like to consider I Am Made Of Chalk like the ending credits track of a movie or more appropriately from the sounds of it a game which is the only way I can justify the song to myself for being at the end of this album. The track sounds like it would be in to-be-continued credits too, a sad ending you kind of want to see how the main characters bring everything together in the sequel. That’s exactly the feeling I get from the end of the album.

I am quite happy about their second album, except for the fact that they self-titled it again. Kath once again blew me away with his ability to create unusual and sometimes refreshing erratic electric sounds. They’re exploring different sounds and successfully pulling it off unlike other bands who have failed terribly trying to walk the same path. Becoming less dependent on that lo-fi sound is probably the best thing they could have done, although they didn’t let it die because it is still noticeable in some tracks. This album will get a larger following simply because the tracks are less harsh on the ears. Can’t complain about that.

1. Fainting Spells (3/5)
2. Celestica (4/5)
3. Doe Deer (2/5)
4. Baptism (5/5)
5. Year of Silence (5/5)
6. Empathy (4/5)
7. Suffocation (5/5)
8. Violent Dreams (4/5)
9. Vietnam (4/5)
10. Birds (3/5)
11. Pap Smear (5/5)
12. Not In love (5/5)
13. Intimate (5/5)
14. I Am Made Of Chalk (3/5)

Crystal Castles – Year of Silence

Crystal Castles – Suffocation

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Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (2010)

Date Released: March 3-9, 2010
Album Genre: Alternative rock, Alternative hip-hop, Electronic
Album Rating: 8*/10

Blur singer Damon Albarn and co-creator of Tank Girl Jamie Hewlett are at it again the third installment of their virtual band Gorillaz; Plastic Beach. I remember the first time I listened to the Gorillaz it was 3am at night looking for tabs on the internet for songs and happened upon a video for Clint Eastwood and M1 A1. Slow paced, far from mainstream sounding, excuse mashing up these genres, hip hop and alternative rock. Gaining popularity, I definitely noticed their music moving more towards a mainstream sound in Demon Days or quite possibly the other way around, mainstream was moving towards them.

My first impression from listening to Plastic Beach was that it was a seamless movie. This wouldn’t come as much of a surprised as Jamie Hewlett’s influence must have a lot of weight. It’s not hard to notice Hewlett’s love affair with producing dreamlike noir animations and films. The album seems to take a lighter approach musically and lyrically than their previous albums, although by far much stranger, chronicling a journey through this Plastic Beach.

The album begins with a soft instrumental ballad suitably labeled Orchestral Intro followed by an old-school sounding hip hop track with Snoop Dogg basically welcoming you to something that feels like a plastic Alice in Wonderland. White Flag had a surprising introduction, real instruments? Not for long, although toned down from the heavy bass we’re used to from Gorillaz with lyrics bringing us deeper into the rabbit hole. With a rather dreamy yet eerie voice, Albarn manages to scare me but really pull me in with Rhinestone Eyes. One line struck me more than the others, “helicopters fly over the beach, same time everyday, same routine” mainly because the picture in my head was quite vivid.

Everyone’s favorite song from this album, Stylo simply because it just sounds so damn cool. I thought for the longest time they were describing about a robot in one word bursts from Bobby Womack, although quite the different image from the video, although this track seems to move way from the image of plastic. The one predominantly hip hop song that seems to be signature to any of the Gorillaz albums, Superfast Jellyfish featuring De La Soul and Gruff Rhys. The album, or shall I call it story changes pace with Empire Ants, having a relatively mellow tone throughout the song until the end where it introduces electro which is continued on into Glittery Freeze starting with “Where’s north from here?” followed by sounds of Morse code on a telegraph. It really reminded me of M1 A1 from their first track, I actually thought it was a fully instrumental track with sampling from a movie, but it’s Mark E. Smith from The Fall providing “background” vocals

Some Kind Of Nature taking a different approach in describing this world in confusion behind very basic music in the background, giving me the image of something almost like a scene from the Wild West. On Melancholy Hill touches 80’s synthpop, the first time in this album, I might be taking a leap and my memory may be lapsing, but it may be the first time Gorillaz really delved into this genre. This track really popped out lyrically from the rest of the album because it was actually about a “we”. Broken is the first time we’ve heard 2D’s, or more precisely Albarn’s voice without any distortions or aftereffects which is refreshing in an synth filled album. Mos Def raps on a completely different level and is exhibited very well in Sweepstakes, taking the front seat in this track.

Another addition to this ensemble cast, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from The Clash get together for the first time since Combat Rock to add yet another dimension to the album. Although I was expecting something a little bit louder in Plastic Beach. It’s about time, it’s nice to hear a woman’s voice finally. Thankfully Yukimi from Little Dragon was here to save the day in The Binge where surf rock meets shoegaze and exchanging not so delightful thoughts with Albarn. Bobby Womack helps conclude the album with a rather orchestral piece in Cloud of Unknowing. I couldn’t help but notice the song having the same title as a piece of Christian mysticism and linking that thought that in the track, he’s somehow talking about God. Quite the opposite from the original The Cloud of Unknown, seeking knowledge will ultimately lead to the clouding of the image of God, “trying to find someone you’ll never know” is made to sound like a pointless quest. The album ends off with the sounds of seagulls and the sea, presumably them sailing away from the Plastic Beach. A story told through music, I wonder what we can expect from Phase Three.

1. Orchestral Intro

2. Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach (4/5)
3. White Flag (3/5)
4. Rhinestone Eyes (4/5)
5. Stylo (5/5)
6. Superfast Jellyfish (5/5)
7. Empire Ants (4/5)
8. Glitter Freeze (4/5)
9. Some Kind Of Nature (3/5)
10. On Melancholy Hill (5/5)
11. Broken (3/5)
12. Sweepstakes (4/5)
13. Plastic Beach (4/5)
14. To Binge (5/5)
15. Cloud Of Unknowing (4/5)
16. Pirate Jet (4/5)

Gorillaz – Superfast Jellyfish

Gorillaz – To Binge

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