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Crystal Castles make a welcome return with their third album, under a certain pressure to replicate the pioneering sounds of their debut and sophomore. While their third outing does not break as much new ground as its predecessors, the record shows the Toronto duo's steady progression as musicians.
 
Often frantic, the album as a whole is dominated by the theme of oppression, from it's artwork to the music itself. The artwork depicts an image taken by Spanish photographer Samuel Aranda, showing a woman (Fatima al-Qaws) holding her son, who was exposed to tear gas during a 2011 street demonstration in Yemen. The music itself, recorded in Warsaw, clashes a bleak and heavy atmosphere with a lighter, calming palette of sounds. Ethan Kath's production on this album is noticeably darker than on previous work, bringing together a dichotomous balance between aggression and calm. Lyrics are almost unintelligible amidst dark choral effects as Alice Glass' wailing vocals are steeped in heavy reverb and distortion. Yet, her emotion is undeniable, especially on 'Kerosene', a track in which listeners can almost hear her straining to be heard over the shrill and sometimes overpowering atmosphere that Kath creates. While some may not particularly agree with the continued manipulation of Glass's vocals, Kath utilises it here to great effect, stifling Glass's voice in a way that utterly captures the pain of subjugation. Furthermore, Glass' strong presence despite such manipulation sends out a potent message against oppression while also serving as testament to her power as a singer.
 
ALbum Review - Crystal Castles 'iii"
The album itself opens with pulsating lead single, 'Plague', bringing with it an urgent energy rarely seen from Crystal Castles. As such, this explosive introduction is an immediate standout. Another is the desolate 'Wrath of God'  and latest single 'Affection' which includes some welcome and distinctive noughties R&B synths. The latter track is indicative of much of the appeal of Crystal Castles' latest offering; the ability to combine a seriousness with music that is subtly danceable is a uncommon gift, but one the duo seem to have mastered. While even some of the album's best cuts lack a natural crescendo, the record benefits from being increasingly stripped back as the duo focus on a refinement rather than an overhaul of their expansive brand of electronica. Nonetheless, arguably the greatest song on the album comes at its very end with 'Child I Will Hurt You', a track which draws heavily from the likes of both Beach House and M83 and is a sleepy end to what is an otherwise frenetic experience. Probably the album's most soft and accessible song, it functions as a relaxing yet clearly mournful closer and as Crystal Castle's unique attempt at dream-pop.     
 
Through it's thematic examination of suffering and oppression, Crystal Castles' (iii) evokes the beautiful sorrow that more often than not accompanies a natural disaster. This stark third album manages to address solemn issues in an earnest fashion without ever compromising it's dancefloor friendliness. The result is a thoroughly immersive work that is both mellow while also somehow feeling bigger than ever.     
 
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REVIEW - JACK O'NEILL
 
Posted 21st November by Thom
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