I remember first reading about Crystal Stilts some time in the late part of 2007. It was on the Seattle-based indie focused blog Three Imaginary Girls. They were recommending this band from New York that had been recommended to them by Kip Berman, the front man of soon to be indiepop break out stars The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. He described it as “What it might have sounded like if Joy Division were an indiepop band.”
Stream “Shake the Shackles”[audio:http://blogs.kcrw.com/musicnews/audio/ShaketheShackles.mp3]
Perhaps no more accurate description could have been given of what was available at the time. The production was the lowest of lo-fi. Guttural vocals from lead singer Brad Hargett defined three or four songs that sounded so dark, yet simultaneously quite mischievous and playful. I filed them away as a band to keep an eye and ear on, and then went about my business.
By the time their first full length, “Alight of Night”, was ready to be released by Slumberland Records almost a year later, Crystal Stilts were a genuine buzz band.
Rightfully so, after all, no one was really doing what they were doing at the time. The songs all felt like soundtrack to a surreal dream world carnival. The kind of dream world you would wake up from unsure of whether or not it was a nightmare, but a world that you would long to revisit nonetheless. Off kilter organ sounds, flute solos, tremolo heavy surf guitar licks, and various other musical odditites that didn’t quite add up with each other laid the foundation.
Then that voice came in singing of graveyards, strange ships, and minds slipping away into the quiet. You’d were left a bit frightened, a bit dazzled, and certain that you’d just experienced something very special.
The formula is the same for the new record, “In Love With Oblivion”, except this time around the intent to create a spooky pop wonderland is executed even more effectively.
The production is much bolder, the songs are more carefully constructed, and with these more clearly established parameters in place, the band really shines. The album unfolds with purpose, from the atmospheric bulid up of the opener “Sycamore Tree” to the way the sound of crickets mingles with the steadily creeping drums on “Alien Rivers,” all the while scattering moments of sheer joy throughout.
Stream “Through the Floor”[audio:http://blogs.kcrw.com/musicnews/audio/ThroughtheFloor.mp3]
The albums’ second track, “Through the Floor,” is downright exuberant (for Crystal Stilts anyway) with it’s hand clap sounds, and rollicking guitar and piano parts.
When I saw them two years ago and their live show already far exceeded the recordings so I can’t wait to see what they are doing these days.
I sadly have to DJ elsewhere Friday night right around the time Crystal Stilts will no doubt be stunning all in attendance of First Fridays at the Natural History Museum.
Seriously, just think about how cool it would be to see the band I’ve been describing surrounded by taxidermy and dinosaur bones! They’re opening for Moving Units, and KCRW’s own Anthony Valadez and Eric J Lawrence will be keeping the party going at full speed with DJ sets all night. I’m so looking forward the pictures from this one, it’s sure to be one of the shows of the year.