Like label mates The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Crystal Stilts are never going to be accused of being original (whatever that means). The droning but jangly noise pop that they expertly belted out on their 2008 debut Alight of Night was a feat of great superficial success. Concocting an aggressive collision of lo-fi 60s pop and disquieting post-punk, the album was rightfully lauded by most, and even garnered the obligatory Joy Division reference here and there. If nothing else, Crystal Stilts had proven themselves to be a band not above their influences. Not even a little bit.
Perhaps growing a bit tired of all the Ian Curtis references–which is a rather inescapable given the achingly obvious similarities between the deliveries of Curtis and Stilts front man Brad Hargett– Crystal Stilts’ follow-up album looks to expand their sonic pallet ever so slightly. Generally more upbeat in tone, and certainly owing more to the Paisley Underground than they have before (and, of course, Jesus and Mary Chain), In Love With Oblivion is a damned fine example of Crystal Stilts finding an attractive meeting point between drone-heavy noise rock and melodic pop landscapes. Understated, but also quite lively in its own way, In Love With Oblivion does Crystal Stilts a great service in how it solidifies their identity.
Granted, there’s nothing especially revolutionary going on here. However, that doesn’t mean tracks like album opener “Sycamore Tree” with its over the top theatrics and garage rock aesthetic, or the brilliant pop plotting of “Half a Moon” aren’t impressive in their integration. Better still is when “Invisible City” makes good on fusing some of the sinister posturing that drives the band with the sun-soaked psychedelia that may grant them an interesting longevity. While In Love With Oblivion is expectedly eclectic, it’s never erratic. And based on what Crystal Stilts are generally going for, that’s one of the smartest things about the LP.
Not all just an exercise in atmosphere, though, In Love With Oblivion also finds Hargett slightly less oblique in his confessions. Dabbling in melodrama just as much as they do sad truths, his words are surprisingly integral to the album’s success. And it’s not because they are so enlightening or particularly elegant; it’s the authenticity that comes across, if only because of the naked honesty. This aspect gets very much tangled up within the mechanics of the album’s sonic methods. In Love With Oblivion‘s best track “Flying into the Sun,” for example, takes a typical JAMC backdrop and soaks it in Hargett’s naval-gazing prose, oddly endearing it in the process. “There’s a black hole/ Behind these eyes/ It takes everything with it/ When it dies.”
Crystal Stilts can sometimes come across just as cloying as they can credible. The simmering emotions, the keyboard flourishes, the fuzzed out catharsis set to bite-sized melodies and up-tempo percussion; it all certainly works very well here, but hardly becomes exciting. What they are doing is not new, but isn’t without that degree of isolation which reveals itself as nothing if not conscientious. All of this has been done before, sure, and will be done again–maybe even by better bands. Crystal Stilts find a way to make you care, though, and that goes along way with music this raw and rapturous.
Plugging away since 1999, The National finally hit mainstream success with the release of their 2010 album High Violet. Of course, this entailed their first world tour, but in the new documentary Mistaken For Strangers, it’s only the backdrop for the relationship between lead singer Matt Berninger and his younger brother Tom, who had no idea that these short videos he was shooting would turn into a public document of their troubled, if still loving brotherhood.
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