Give Me Some More Reverb, I Need Some More Treble
Crystal Stilts love reverb. Since forming in Brooklyn in 2003, the band have used and abused reverberation to give their music a haunted quality. On a series of singles and an earlier self-titled EP, the quartet dowsed the solemn, mournful, manful vocals of frontman Brad Hargett in so much ricocheting echo that their songs sound as if being summoned from some other spectral realm.
So, sure enough, their debut album, Alight of Night, swims so deep into a sea of echo that it enters a realm of eeriness. Playing their driving, sparse, solemn pop-songs under a pall of funereal bleakness (not to mention a façade of staged, ennui-soaked moodiness), the band are taken to an extreme remove from the listener. Sometimes, that sense of detachment seems literal —as in the slurred-out syllables Hargett, on cuts like “Spiral Transit,” seems like he can barely be bothered uttering— othertimes it seems more conceptual.
I Travelled Far and Wide Through Many Different Times
Though you get the feeling that Alight of Night was conceived as an album whose murky, muggy, echoey sound could be mistaken as a remnant of some 40-years-ago era, there’s a studied, postmodernist bent to Crystal Stilts’ agenda. The reverb-drenched production —presided over, seemingly, by Hargett and guitarist JB Townsend— recalls an amorphous idea of the ‘past’ that’s never specified.
As Hargett moans amidst the lo-fidelity fug, organ and guitar and Mo Tucker-ish cardboard-box drums turning circles in an opaque swirl, Crystal Stilts sound like they’re staging a séance, trying to summon, simultaneously, the spirit of both Andy Warhol’s Factory and the early output of Manchester’s Factory Records.
The Space Between Us
If there’s a ghost haunting Alight of Night, an album that’s frequently reminiscent of Joy Division (especially on the four-minute lament “Departure”), it’s not the spirit of that old English outfit’s suicidal singer Ian Curtis, but that of the man who captured their sound, Martin Hannett. Hannett was a prime example of the producer as artist, and his work on Joy Division’s legendary Unknown Pleasures is a huge reason for that band’s ever-lingering legacy: Hannett carving out a cavernous ‘space,’ in sound, that Joy Division’s music seemed to be resounding and ricocheting through.
Crystal Stilts don’t manage to achieve so singular, so 'summoning' a space of their own, but it’s forever fascinating to hear them so wantonly use the studio as instrument, to employ recording techniques to so sharply define their murky aesthetic. In “Verdant Gaze,” this into-the-void approach is most alive: its mid-tempo, two-minute pop-song lurking behind a wash of echo and delay whose oscillating approximations of ‘nothingness’ grow increasingly audible. Foregrounding effects until they become the mix’s defining element, Crystal Stilts draw attention not to a surface, but to the space between you and them. It's an approach that, when it works, feels entirely inviting, rather than distancing.
Record Label: Slumberland
Release Date: 28 October 2008