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August 14, 2020

Crystal Castles' break-up: My honest eulogy

By ALEX HUROWITZ | October 16, 2014

As of Oct. 8, the punk meets synthpop duo Crystal Castles is no more. Vocalist Alice Glass went to social media to declare the end of the band for both professional and personal reasons, stating she hoped people would embrace her material as a solo artist like they did with Crystal Castles. This comes two years after the release of their third album, (III), and definitely puts any plans for a fourth album into a state of purgatory.

This is going to anger a lot of Crystal Castles fans, but here goes nothing. Honestly, I was never really a fan of this group. But why write something like this for a group that broke up when you don’t really even like them? Well, Crystal Castles first emerged on the scene at a time when I was starting to branch out in terms of the music I listened to. Although the duo from Toronto had been around since 2003, they officially broke through in terms of popularity in 2008 with the release of their self-titled debut album.

Although it never clicked with me, one thing was always for certain: Ethan Kath, the producer of the duo, was a talented individual. The production for every Crystal Castles track, despite all the chaos and grime at times, was always inherently catchy, and was a successful attempt at combining synthpop with modern elements of punk, techno and industrial music.

Considering these influences, it takes a rather talented producer to create “pop” music out of this without always going entirely left-field — not that there is nothing wrong with that either. However, this duo always seemed to be a buzz band, always riding on the hype from their debut album in 2008. Now I know those words will stick like venom, but there’s a point to this and it has a lot to do with the fact that what Alice Glass actually contributed musically to the group.

In studio, her voice was not amazing, but with studio work, it fit the songs. That doesn’t mean having a technically trained vocalist was the answer, but one sort of wonders what thought processes went into the vocals, especially considering their live performances.

In such a setting, one either couldn’t hear her voice because they mixed it out, or if you did, she was shrieking into the microphone the entire time (from personal experience, it doesn’t sound nice at all). In either case, she would flop around the stage, usually on a cocktail of drugs (she was known for sometimes bringing entire handles of alcohol with her on stage), as Ethan and the drummer played through the backing tracks, identical to the studio version but with the bass boosted and overpowering all the mid-ranged sounds (with the synths and drum machines probably all pre-recorded).

Despite whatever messages they attempted to convey in studio, their live performances seem to just give this “let’s get wasted and go crazy ‘cause we’re angry about something” mentality. Now, while this can be entertaining for a little while, if you consider the plethora of other guy-girl duos that have come onto the scene since Crystal Castles debuted (Sylvan Esso, Purity Ring, Phantogram, Cults, Blue Hawaii, etc.) and how they do their own material both live and in studio, Crystal Castles just becomes gimmicky and tiresome very quickly.

Additionally, with the release of their second and third albums, the overall feel of the tracks just seemed to be a stagnation of their punk ethos, as opposed to some change or maturation. Despite their intentions, they unfortunately just fit a niche. So, considering all of that, what is there to expect with Alice Glass’s solo project? What will happen with Crystal Castles and Ethan? Despite her “lyricism,” Ethan Kath practically wrote all of the music, so Alice’s “solo” project will probably require the assistance of another person.

But, if one is seriously looking to someone like Alice Glass to make statements and comments about serious political and social issues, then one really needs to re-evaluate such a decision. Meanwhile, it’ll be interesting to see what Crystal Castles/Ethan Kath does without Alice now. If you haven’t seen his solo DJ sets, they are rather good and don’t require a drugged fool making a scene of themselves in order to provide a remotely entertaining live experience.

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