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Reviewed for FasterLouder.
Crystal Stilts are part of the current wave of bands from America that are continuing the Velvet Underground lineage of droney lo-fi garage rock. Along with Vivian Girls and Black Lips they are carving out their own part of a scene that looks back more than it looks forward. On their debut album they take a couple of key elements and combine them to mixed results.
Alight Of Night follows the release of a self titled EP last year. The new record is a much stronger representation of the band’s modus operandi; to create dark and moody post-punk music that is high on drama and atmosphere rather than musical perfection.
One obvious comparison is Velvet Underground. On the closing track ‘The City In The Sea’ there is an overwhelming sense of hearing their sound before. It is the pulsing bass, the jangle and muted twang of the guitars and the floor tom focused drums that takes the listener back to new York warehouse apartments in the late 1960s where Reed and Cale introduced a new drone aesthetic to rock & roll music.
The other interesting influence is 1980’s Flying Nun acts from New Zealand such as The Chills and The Clean. Others like Jay Reatard have been referencing the energy of these bands but JB Townsend and Brad Hargett take the grey gothic parts of the antipodean sound and mix it up with some Joy Division and early Cure to give it an even moodier feel.
‘The Dazzled’ is a perfect example of the NZ connection, particularly in the jaunty rhythm that sounds loose and casual which is exactly the reason for its charm. The song ‘Crystal Stilts’ adds a Jesus & Mary Chain grit to proceedings while ‘Graveyard Orbit’ throws in some reverb-laden surf guitar on prozac, dialing up the dreamy haze factor.
Hargett’s vocals are the weak link on Alight Of Night. He struggles to find a comfortable place within the music and the highlights often come where the instruments are left to stumble on by themselves. His dull monotone moans come from a gothic place where the likes of Robert Smith, Ian Curtis and Andrew Eldritch (Sisters Of Mercy) have all resided. His best moment is on ‘Prismatic Room’ where he attempts a stronger melody and and seems to rise above the flatness of most of the album.
Lyrically Hargett is preoccupied with the existentialist crisis of identity. With lines like “When I conjure memories they feel like someone else’s” and “Finding faces in a blackness / Fathom form in the abyss / This vision’s chaos of color / Is a collision of bane and bliss”, he paints a pretty bleak outlook on life.
Instruments like organ and harmonica give an organic touch to the album, going someway to balance out the claustrophobic darkness that pervades much of the record.
If you can get past the vocals on Alight Of Night there are some wonderful touches that connect back to so many key moments in music, from the Doors to goth to post punk and indie. The overall feel is of a dense and heavy vibe so if you need some cheering up stay well clear. If you love wallowing in your own despair and swirling thoughts then you will embrace Crystal Stilts with open arms.