Review : Crystal Stilts - In Love With Oblivion
PitchforkWhat's up with that guy's singing, anyway? That question was tossed around quite a bit back in 2008, when Crystal Stilts emerged as one of the more interesting acts in the lo-fi Brooklyn jangle-pop pile. On the band's debut LP, 2008's Alight of Night (as well as the preceding Woodsist-co-released self-titled EP), frontman Brad Hargett often sang in a tone-wary, bass-heavy voice, his vocals cloaked in enough echo to nearly smother his dark incantations. However, you didn't really need to know what he was saying (or, for that matter, what key it was supposed to be sung in) to dive deep into the lonely, dark, and difficult-to-inhabit world of Alight of Night. The band's somewhat standoffish early live shows further suggested the presence of a complicated aura. Even as the clouds began to break with 2009's excellent single "Love Is a Wave", there was still a fair bit of vague menace hanging over what the Stilts were doing.
The murkiness continues to recede on the band's sophomore effort, In Love With Oblivion, but the menace mostly persists-- only, here it feels less introverted and more vivacious, largely due to Hargett's improvements as a lyricist. Save for the macho bellowing that stains "Blood Barons", he's a smarter, more descriptive presence here, whether he's bemoaning losing a winter's love to the "Silver Sun" or surrealistically describing a disappearing act on "Through the Floor". He can be funny, too-- like on "Invisible City", when he sings about crawling into a sarcophagus with a girl before repeating, like a too-clever suspect in the interrogation room, "We know what happened at death/ But I don't have to say why." This is all, of course, only when you can understand him-- reverb still abounds, and whether this is a feeling triggered by lack of comprehension or listener fatigue in 2011, it comes off as a hampering effect.
The cavernous echo that places distance between Hargett and everything else seems especially out of place when taking into consideration how damn good the rest of the band sounds. Joining up with David Feck, frontman of indie pop vets Comet Gain, for last year's self-titled LP as supergroup Cinema Red and Blue, clearly served them well, as the singular chugging force that ran throughout Alight of Night is replaced here by tight intra-band cohesion and playfulness. You can practically hear the tightly coiled guitar line and insistent rhythm in "Invisible City" snap against each other, while all the elements contained in "Half a Moon" sway in unison without congealing into a grossly blaring whole. Also, for a band that might never escape the "lo-fi" tag, this is a surprisingly ornate and atmospheric record. The jarring effect of the lovely, reedy woodwind melody that emerges from within "Flying into the Sun" is offset by barely there harpsichord dithering that creates an enticing depth of sound, while the elegiac horn that briefly moans in the middle of the unfortunately titled "Alien Rivers" adds an affecting touch to the otherwise turgid, seven-minute-plus dud. Songs open with creaking bug noises, car crashes, shivering tonal squelches-- they're thinking not just about the song but also how to sing it, in a sense, and the commitment shows....full text
PrefixmagThe Brooklyn post-punks' follow-up to their critically lauded 2008 debut Alight of Night continues their penchant for dark '60s psychedelics and hazy '80s pop. Their dreamy atmosphere is expanded here through a better studio production....full text
DustedmagazinePlaying it cool is so much harder than freaking out. Getting hot and crazy is a risk for a musician; you could come off like a buffoon, make people skip to the next song or leave the room rolling their eyes. But you earn an opinion, and there’s no such thing as bad publicity, etc., etc. No one can accuse Crystal Stilts of getting wacky and whoring for attention. The Stilts construct rock that elicits little more than a tap of boot. They strum away behind Brad Hargett’s sober vocals, as neither drizzle of fuzz nor deluge of reverberation stay them from swift completion of their appointed rounds.
It continues to please some people out there, even if In Love With Oblivion leaves me as blasé as their last album and debut EP left previous Dusted writers. Overall, Hargett and Co. seem to have demonstrated enough cool competence to avoid dismissal. Crystal Stilts have figured out the minimum effort required to make a song feel complete, without ever being intriguingly minimal. The band’s last album made a good run on college radio, and I’ll grant that they’re an excellent band for segues -- any track here could get a DJ from Interpol into The Oh Sees smoothly; or from Let’s Wrestle all the way back Section 25. They’re wingman rock, making better music look a lot hotter.
For a band with a cold delivery that’s based out of Brooklyn, the Stilts must be enduring an incredible amount of peer pressure to go goth, but they haven’t made any radical changes here. Oblivion continues their sole trick: contrasting bright chords with Hargett’s moaning. Straining for insight, I could say Oblivion modifies that orientation slightly. I hear a prim twang to the arpeggios that recalls west coast psychedelia. Maybe they’ve been listening to The Byrds and Love, but detecting those influences in a band that doesn’t have any vocal melodies makes it hard to say for sure....full text
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