Crystal Stilts - Alight Of Night
Bill Cummings 20/02/2009
Haven't you heard C86 is back? In recent months the urgent Shop Assistants-esque fuzz of the Vivian Girls and the heady fizzing pop of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart have delighted us, proving that the Americans are currently the ones reserving the era of jangle with the most panache. Brooklyn-based quintet Crystal Stilts are the latest in the queue, and they come backed with some impressive praise from, amongst others, Pitchfork and Stool Pigeon, newly signed to Angular Recordings in the UK (the folks behind nascent releases from Klaxons and These New Puritans). Their debut “Alight Of Night” is more Nu-Gaze than their NY contemporaries: cowering in dark misty corners smoking the gloomy blues of New Zealand flying Nun label bands (The Chillis and The Bats)with the echoey, reverby garage gaze of Jesus and Mary Chain, and the minimal melancholia of Suicide. Sadly, their rather stilted rhythms and droning, wearing vocals being too pale half way through resemble the sound of a muddy puddle at midnight than a gleaming reflection of British indie bands past.
Sure tracks like the self titled and the SinKing (see what they did there) musically spit and crackle with lo-fi dark alley menace, but this set is so redolent of much of the Jesus and Mary Chain's high water mark 'Psychocandy' as to be wearisome pastiche. While 'Graveyard Orbit' is more successful, ethereal, ghostly, clambering over dusky gravestones, its gothic posturing reminding one of Joy Division's more sombre mid tempo moments, it's let down by CS vocalist Brad Hargett whose boresome, maudlin, baritone pitch sounds like Ian Curtis having suffered a stroke. Lyrics are barely audible, buried under layers of reverb like a man down a well singing 'aaarrireiaarrraiaieeeeearrai' in your ear for half an hour. That's the main problem here, while musically these are well executed slabs of garage noise, unlike say the Motown meets Hi-Fi gazing of Glasvegas or the Raveonettes, bands with genuinely affecting vocalists, each track on 'Alight Of Night' becomes painful sound of Guantanamo Bay torture treatment, once the vocals kick in. The jangle strum and Velvets-esque drumming of 'Shattered Shine' briefly offers a ray of hope, with its hypnotic drumming and brief delightful dash of haunted house harmonicas it's redolant of the spooked 60s Texas psych of 13th Floor Elevators 'Pristine Room' is headache inducing: chopping monotony, weaving through the debris under your bed while guitarist JB Townsend's psychedelic licks guide the way, and a man lies in bed moaning about the state of his life. He, like me, is in dire need of being put out of his misery.
With 'Alight Of Night', Crystal Stilts were apparently hoping to take you on a trip into the 'dark side' of B Movie horror, but this is stubbornly bargain basement fare. Sure they have all the right influences to drop right now, and the occasional melodic flicker(and one previous single) show that beneath the appaling production values: they have a good musical palette but these vocals and melodies are so tiresome, the muddy primitive 80s indebted sound is so riddled in 'spot the band' pastiche, that you find yourself looking for the skip to next CD button once most of the songs kick into the second minute mark. Which is perplexing considering this band has been feted so elsewhere, so maybe I'm missing something. But after listening to this on rotation my head hurts, so I'm off to find some Anadin.
Release date: 23/02/09