I generally start out hating my favorite bands.
My first Arcade Fire song: “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations.” Hated how dark and warbly everyone sounded.
My first Yeah Yeah Yeahs song: “Gold Lion.” Didn’t understand why her voice sounded so raw.
My first Gorillaz song: of course, “Feel Good Inc.” Thought it was really really weird, and there were too many styles of music in it.
My first The National song: “Fake Empire.” Too gloomy, too mumbly.
My first Bloc Party song: “Hunting for Witches.” Frenetic, staccato to the point of being painful to listen too, and what the hell was the singer saying?
You get the gist. But the first time I listened to Crystal Castles’s “Untrust Us,” I fell under a spell that, ever since then, I’ve never been able to explain or articulate. And while they’re a band that doesn’t have the artistic prestige of some of my other favorite artists, it’s CC that for whatever reason captures my musical affections (and perhaps affectations) in a way that’s unique.
Because while I love acts like LCD Soundsystem and Animal Collective and Kendrick Lamar and Annie and Grimes, it’s Alice Glass that I see as my shadow spirit guide, a panda-eyed runaway wraith with a fondness for whiskey and pencil skirts, whose hair served as a considerable influence for my own follicle transformations.
She’s not a very public persona, not at all comparable to the female pop stars that rule our airwaves and our pop culture conversations now, but she’s more in tune with the ranges of femininity, rather than prescribed to one notion of it, than most people are. She’s alternately vulnerable and snarling, and while her fans feel a certain protectiveness about her, she gives off a distinct “don’t fuck with me” vibe.
It’s so weird for performers to not schill themselves, but the only CC interview I’ve ever read in a “mainstream” media outlet is their cover feature for NME. In it, Glass laments the state of healthy, non-infantalized feminine sexuality in popular culture, and while the interview reads as a little too snarling, a little too acerbic, it’s not as though Glass owes an apology to anyone or expects anyone in NME’s readership to disagree with her. If anything, it’d be crazy to read an interview with Glass in which she extols anything other than a prickliness when it comes to people living in any sort of comfort and privilege.
That might be the thing that I like most about CC’s music: it throws you out of your comfort zone. When I first listened to “Doe Deer,” I couldn’t handle it. Even now, I’ll be listening through “(I)” or “(II)” or “(III)” (I dig their utilitarian album naming) and think, Where the fuck did this/that come from? The layering in their songs is crazy, and the combination of thrash aural aesthetics with some pretty gnarly production is as comfortable as sleeping on a bed of coals.
I once likened their music to breaking glass. My other CC-obsessed friend immediately rejected that statement, saying that their music doesn’t sound like dissonant, cacophonous noise (my phrasing, his sentiment). But… I mean, at times it does. And I don’t use glass as just a play on Alice’s name, or as some sort of jarring, unlistenable comparison. When I think of breaking glass, I think of a pane snapping into a million iridescent shards, of fault lines spidering through transparent sheen, of razor-edged rain falling in sharp sheets.
It’s like the music of “Blade Runner,” if Vangelis was a dancehall riot starter and he swapped his glossy synths out for distorted shrieks and thudding bass. Damn, imagine that movie: Harrison Ford in black hoodies and Converse, wearing skull-print bandanas over his slightly sneering mouth, wielding spray paint canisters and a Higo knife…
I dig it. And I dig the dirtier sounds of music (which sounds like a terrible porn parody of the beloved Julie Andrews musical). I know that a lot of people adore music because it makes them feeeeeeeel things, but there’s something to be said of music that doesn’t have explicit overtones of anything, that is all amorphous sound and spoken words and unclear intentions. When I’m feeling down, maybe I’ll put on “Run” by Snow Patrol for a good cry, or when I’m feeling awesome, I’ll put on something like “Voyager” or “Crescendolls,” but when I want to just listen to music, for the sake of listening to music, more often than not, I’ll turn my ear toward Crystal Castles.
I don’t fully get it. I don’t think I’m supposed to. In the end, the point is to settle down, tune in, bliss out—I’ve found order in the sounds of deconstruction.
(Image: Pill Poppers by athenapaola)
DISCLAIMER: I wrote this about two weeks ago and just never wrapped it up, which is why it’s a little uneven. School’s been breaking my back, so pardon the long publishing delays, friendos.