(Asthmatic Kitty; 2009)

By Conrad Amenta | 6 May 2009

In the odd and rare intersection of the music critic and action hero I do occasionally get to stand on the rubble of so many slagged albums and see one with character and real personality emerging, love interest-like, from the rubble, and I get to say by way of response in my gravelly man voice, “This is what makes it all worthwhile.” No, really: if the stultifying, formulaic plot of a critic’s daily existence is the 50%s and 60%s that are doled out like so much shrapnel to the musical equivalents of faceless henchmen, then the occasional redemptive listen—like the rare three-dimensional character in aforementioned action movie—is an infusion of personality that connects and makes this whole experience go.

You see, though Cryptacize is a perfectly likable band, I didn’t much like their debut. Though I admitted that the group showed a lot of promise and that I looked forward to their next effort, I know that—like so many of the placeholders uttered in the aforementioned action movie that is my daily critical adventure—the statement was unabashed optimism at best, admittedly obscured by a tone of resolutely measured expectations tempered by idealism. Bands whose debut album isn’t very good almost never come back with a follow-up that stunningly exceeds it. But here I am with Mythomania, my golden MacGuffin, and so I find myself reconsidering Dig That Treasure (2008) and rescripting that album into something more fundamental than flawed. If I step out from behind the assumption that a debut album contains all of a band’s best ideas, those that have been gestating and worked out for years, and the sophomore album isn’t simply the sound of the same band writing under pressure in a truncated time period, then I’m rewriting the whole damned approach to music mapping. Maybe there’s a reason Sufjan “My Vision Outstrips My Abilities” Stevens sees something special in Cryptacize and took them under his hit-or-miss Asthmatic Kitty wing.

Or maybe Sujan just knew that when you’ve got former Deerhoof guitarist Chris Cohen in the mix a band is eventually bound to stumble across something neat. The irony, or stupidly obvious statement, is that Cryptacize is not all that cryptic. Their appeal is obvious. Thus, part of my problem with Dig That Treasure was that it lent itself so readily to the quick listen, and unraveling it just left a pile of bandages on the floor, all wounded confessions and Nedelle Torrisi’s exposed vocals as the band seemed to cycle mindlessly on without ever building to anything. While Mythomania doesn’t necessarily punch its way out of that paper bag, the album does feel more immediate, its melodies are more memorable, and the songs do occasionally allow themselves to become more ragged. It’s as if Dig That Treasure, for all its pleasantness, overthought itself into primary colors. Mythomania, coming just a year later, allows itself to sound slightly flawed and hurried either on purpose or because it actually was written with urgency. It’s a much more engaging listen for it.

Torrisi still sounds like she’s standing on a barstool in a busy city street looking out over the heads of an indifferent crowd. “Tail & Mane” takes the stuff of the band’s immaculately tailored scope and ever so pleasingly tweaks it slightly larger, allowing Torrisi’s chase narrative to take pleasing shapes and new importance. When she builds (and there’s those elusive dynamics) to a refrain, “If I could find my way back to you,” it takes on the character of the world-weary and fresh-faced rather than the echo chamber of every other song to have ever used that sentiment. The title track, like the album, personifies aspects of AM radio truly difficult to pull off, especially when touching on authenticity is like striking oil in your backyard. “The Cage” is a percussive, reverb-laden ditty—both deserving of that terminology and actually quite a bit better than Camera Obscura, who seem cast onto a dead sea of syrupy strings and canned horns. This is the confident and spotless study of musicianship that I’d like to think I always knew Cryptacize had in them.

The band does still seems like it’s on the verge of something a little larger than itself, playing scrimmage and pitching us softies from the comforts of home field rather than striking boldly into the wastelands of genre-play. And it’s probably hoping too much for a band with such minimalist (and charming) tendencies to throw its hacksaw to the winds just for the sake of braving a broader set of critical talons. But the trio is suggesting with some temerity a cosmopolitan tenor I’d love to see splayed out more fully. It’s for this progress that I’m rewarding Cryptacize with my ardor, glad that they’re giving me another reason to keep believing, keep fighting, keep typing. Actually, Mythomania makes them something like my hero.