Crystal Antlers


(Touch and Go; 2009)

By Colin McGowan | 11 March 2009

Perhaps a bit forgotten due to early-year release date amnesia and full-length, critically-beloved ventures from bands like Fucked Up and No Age, Crystal Antlers was easily my favorite “hype band” of ’08. While Fucked Up was content to work at full tilt for forty minutes at a time, climaxes so obsessed with their own veracity they were just numbing and impotent, and Black Kids bluntly sucked, the best of the Crystal bands rolled out fury that had enough sense not to go unhinged only to sputter out. To a certain extent, EP (2008) was unhinged, but it was held together by enough wads of gum and paperclips not to collapse into a messy pile of pointless aggression.

Unfortunately, for their first lengthy introduction, they seem to have lost some verve. It’s a frustrating representation of what a tightrope their sort of exorcism music is: “Parting Song For The Torn Sky” seemed a cataclysm a year ago, subverting its own sadness into triumph, guitars shattering while Johnny Bell stood atop their smoldering debris manifesting his heavily-filtered guts; “Memorized,” despite the same car wreck dynamics and inaudible shrieks, sounds almost like a capitulating whine in comparison.

It seems the slight shift might lie in a lessened emphasis on guitars in the mix and an increased usage (and volume) of Victor Rodriguz’s organ. Not that the organ-work on EP wasn’t an essential part of its appeal—“Owl” is more beautiful for it—but organ stabs always operated in deference to wailing guitars. Tentacles seems to prove that you can molest a guitar to the point where it shoots fireworks—I mean, duh, there are entire genres predicated on that principle—but groping an organ just makes it bruised and sort of ugly; “Dust” and “Your Spears” grate because of exactly this problem. Of course, grating I can tolerate from a band that relies on cathartic physicality, and maybe this “play the shit out of the organ and relegate the still-scathing guitars to a complimentary role” steeze has potential Crystal Antlers haven’t quite honed, but what doesn’t suffer from ugliness seems deflated. “Andrew” is a functional ballad that turns the house lights down a bit, but Bell is still one-note screaming through his filter, just with a bit less vitriol than usual, his sincerity muffled and his frustration barely apparent. It’s confounding stuff. And what is that horn doing in the background of “Memorized”? Why can’t “Time Erased” decide whether it wants to crack or hold some pop structure together?

Tentacles poses these frustrating questions regularly and it seems the band hasn’t quite sorted out the answers to them yet. Which is promising, actually, because the group seems to be at least attempting to toy with their sound, realizing 40 minutes of EP might’ve painted them a band incapable of doing much else other than that brand of bleeding-heart cacophony. Here, though, they do seem incapable of deviating from the blueprint they set forth with their debut, lethargically moving somewhere more melodic but noncommittally, coming off as a watered-down version of their previous incarnation.