(Thrill Jockey; 2010)
By Conrad Amenta | 12 May 2010
Consider my interest piqued upon learning that 66.666% of Lazer Crystal is also part of Chicago’s inconsistently great Mahjongg, whose urban dust-ups and robot orgasms and stilt-walking rhythms come echoing up from distant 2008 with still-instantaneous payoff. In the hopes that Mahjongg might still come out with the utterly fantastic record that I suspect they’re capable of, I’m casting about at flash-sideways projects like Lazer Crystal: reading tea leaves, shooting Nerf arrows at constellations, looking at mug shots for what I want to see. That was my first mistake.
My second was to follow an instinct to slot MCMLXXX, a pretty decent and occasionally great debut record, alongside Crystal Castles’ self-titled album (2008), which may sound stylistically similar but which washes such style mercilessly out until it’s bleached of all color and personality. There’s an edge, to be sure, molecules that grate against each other, but the goal is not to pulverize the listener, like Crystal Castles so flailingly does. If anything, Lazer Crystal re-introduce dynamics to what was a purposefully seared equation, cooling treble-saws into ambient washes and restraining vocals from reaching peaked-out screams.
Thought of this way, something like MCMLXXX might indicate some form of post-Millennial industrial music—though renamed (what was it: electro-clash?), appropriately enough, given the laptop’s recent fixture where the cord-threaded synth and electric guitar once were. There’s something less tactile about today’s industrial, something equally mechanical sounding but less actually mechanical, though a song like the previously-released “Hot Pink BMX” or “Lipp Service” can still evoke a Primal Scream. Elsewhere and throughout there are Numan and Reznor and Low-era (1977) Bowie references to be made. They’re just ground into glass and filtered into hot chocolate.
Also a bit like industrial is the record’s conflicted relationship with the dance floor, its impetuses always seemingly on the edge of morphing violently from dancing into slam dancing—despite the regular thump and sway of new wave cool “Love Rhombus.” Most of the album is a siren to those engaged in their dark corner conversations, a petition to come out under the gimmicky lights; but once you’re there the repetition, the texture of razor wire, and the confrontation seemingly inherent to this music, is almost subversive. It leaves you exposed. It’s no Studio’s Yearbook 1 (2007), though it sounds like it could have once been before it willfully mutilated into this. What you come to realize—what the record unwittingly makes you realize—is that you’re simply sharing familiar space with not so familiar people. Dance music for the weirdo sect. This dissimilarity is so natural you get the notion that Lazer Crystal just hear their music differently, and the alienation is in the sharing.
And there’s the biggest mistake of all: to expect from something like MCMLXXX what it is neither capable nor interested in giving. Like Mahjonng, their tropes are not challenging, nor do they need to be challenged, and yet you’ll find yourself so. This is not a concept record, with an explicit purpose, nor does it pander; but because it’s so thoroughly of the unpolemic it’s hard to know what exactly we’re supposed to do with it. Lazer Crystal are writing in the uncomfortable in-between spaces—like industrial—teetering on the lip between the accessible and the isolated.