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    Crystal Stilts

    Alright Of Night 8 ( 2008 )
    1. The Dazzled 2. Crystal Stilts 3. Graveyard Orbit 4. Prismatic Room 5. The SinKing 6. Departure 7. Shattered Shine 8. Verdant Gaze 9. Bright Night 10. Spiral Transit 11. The City in the Sea

    First released October 2008, what we have here are a moody psychedelic tinged garage band. They sound heavily compressed, sound like they record their vocals in the bathroom and already seem like they are a modern indie-rock Joe Meek. Imagine my delight then to read an interview with Crystal Stilt JB who says his dream collaboration would have been with Joe Meek. Big shouts to Crystal Stilt JB Townsend! We love Joe Meek over here at adriandenning.co.uk - and this debut full length Crystal Stilts release happens to be the first record I've picked up in 2009 to really excite me. Of course, hilariously mis-informed and under-researched American magazines and blogs have compared Crystal Stilts to either Jesus and Mary Chain or Velvet Underground, or both. A more accurate comparison could be Spacemen 3, but that doesn't really stick either. Nope, we've got a band trying to approximate the production atmosphere of a Joe Meek freakbeat classic whilst at the same time having a singer who sounds so laid back (and indeed, back in the mix) that you do wonder whether he's actually alive at times. Lyrically too, songs mentioning a graveyard orbit, a spiral transit or a verdant gaze won't immediately impress the poetic Dylan fans among you. These are purely lyrics for their sound, for their vowels and forms.

    Now, I can easily understand any bad review from anybody commenting on the Crystal Stilts vocals. The singer gazes in the approximate direction of a tune and then decides to sing something else quite entirely unlike an actual tune. The drums are doomy and full of echo, as is everything else actually. The guitars often sound like two or three notes merely stummed or occasionally sound like somebody within Crystal Stils absolutely loves Sixties girl-pop. The bass has been compressed to a dull, throbbing thud often berift of melody and i'm really painting un-attractive pictures here, aren't I? Yet, there remains something undeniably insidious and addictive about 'Alright Of Night'.

    'The City In The Sea' is as depressing as watching a repeat of Friends that you've seen eighty times already, four of them earlier the same day, yet when a guitar pipes up attractively half way through for about five seconds, the song is lifted. The droning of the vocals suddenly get to you when the bass changes tack and starts playing prettier melodies. The song seems to have hope somewhere amidst the darkness. My favourite track though is the song named after themselves. Proper Meek drums here, intriguing mentions of distorted dreams and the guitars rattle away, the bass plays something approaching, is it rockabilly? Can't quite place it. So, an insistent rhythm, distortion, massive echo and compression that almost obliterate the vocals and then some daft sounding keyboard line that would have sounded lo-tech even in the early sixties. For some reason, I find the entire song absolutely magnificent.

    Listen to a Joe Meek compilation and something like 'Prismatic Room' will appear, but it'll probably be called 'My Little Baby' or 'She Comforts My Sorrow'. 'The Sinking' meanwhile actually does resemble early Jesus And Mary Chain ever so slightly, if you want a further point of reference. I do wonder about these guys, because they've apparently taken years and years to get it together enough to record an album, yet it sounds like they've spent most of that time on this thoroughly confusing to almost everybody production sound. I of course love the sound of this LP, I know roughly where it's come from. The album also has a whiff of eighties underproduction whereby indie bands would have ten pence and a few pieces of string with which to record their albums. Again though, I like that sound. That Crystal Stilts seemingly have deliberately sought out such a sound can only be the sign of a bunch of lunatics. Well, either that, or the sign of dedicated individuals fond of their alternative rock history.

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    In Love With Oblivion 9 ( 2011 )
    Sycamore Tree / Through the Floor / Silver Sun / Alien Rivers / Half a Moon / Flying Into the Sun / Shake the Shackles / Precarious Stair / Invisible City / Blood Barons / Prometheus At Large

    Reverb and echo and Joe Meek and a singer that can't really be heard properly. Byrds guitars dressed up in plain clothing. Lo fi sounds and a band that admitted they would love to be produced by Joe Meek. They have a certain something, that's for sure, yet if we want to take this Joe Meek thing forwards, Joe threw his singers out front, stuck them in his bathroom. The voice was often huge yet Crystal Stilts also have that alternative 80s indie thing going on, hiding behind the sounds they create. It about the sounds and the melodies, it's not about the voice and the words. I've been reading reviews comparing them to Joy Division, have professional critics really got such a small sphere of bands to compare other bands to? Clever effects and pose throwing, one review mentions. What, daring to sound different? The lo-fi isn't a gimmick, it's something many many of the best 80s indie bands did, not out of choice really but that's all they had. Yet, it created a different aesthetic. That bands now want to run with this is no surprise to me when modern recording techniques suck the soul out of most bands. If you are a UK band, you record sub Oasis crap. If you are a US band that are aiming for the mainstream, you are produced and compressed to death, all shiny and pathetic. Crystal Stilts operate in a chosen narrow tunnel that's never ever going to earn them radio play and they know that. They follow a long-dead musical form and watch music reviewers scratch their heads and wonder what's going on and try to say what's going on and get it horribly wrong.

    Every song is good on this album, even the seven minute long drone that is 'Alien Rivers' a song Jim Morrison would have rejected as being far too much misery and drone. It grows on you and then you have 'Shake The Shackles' released as a single and probably never played on any radio station ever on the entire earth, yet 'Shake The Shackles' is straight-forward. The opening 'Sycamore Tree' reminds listeners that Joe Meek is indeed an influence, you've got this intro that consists of effects, a simple bass line and all aiming for that satellite in the sky. The bass grows and plays two notes, dum dum dum dum. The drums enter, shuffling along as if the drummer is playing in a really crap jazz band. The guitar plays about four notes and the singer sings about a 'Sycamore Tree' rhyming tree with me, sea, etc. The guitars start to spiral and there is an energy and a rush and a weird echo of westerns. 'Flying Into The Sun' could have been written by Gene Clarke for The Byrds if only he wrote it for a singer who wanted to hide in a cave and sing out of a tube erected upwards out of a hole poking ever so slightly out of the earth. It's charming is what it is. 'Precarious Star' continues with Hollies jangle and vocals that almost can't be discerned. It's a wonderful combirmation of chiming guitars and simple melodies - that's the album. It's an album that marks out Crystal Stilts as a band who have their own way of doing things.

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    this page last updated 13/07/12


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