Describing their music, the image that keeps coming back is that of dumping gasoline on a camp fire. The highly flammable liquid is going to blaze up and emit a powerful wave of heat, possibly singe some eyebrows, and roar like a starved puma. A bright flash will suddenly illuminate the surrounding woods, revealing previously unforeseen visual details in a matter of seconds. Then it will die down, and go back to that slowly devouring burn.
In other words, Crystal Antlers play at such a high level of intensity, one fears for their staying power (especially if their recent set at the Knitting Factory during CMJ week was any evidence).
The band’s bracing collision of psychedelia, prog, thrash and punk has caught the attention of many music heads, but it’s the fashion in which they incorporate these elements into a whole that smack of something special. For one thing, the crash cymbal never stops crashing. It’s as if drummer Kevin Stuart and percussionist Damian Edwards are running a smithy versus drumming, just straight-up pounding the metal in the hopes of getting that right shape. The effect is like a relentless exclamation point, forever calling attention to the crashing waves of reverb so prevalent within the Crystal Antlers sound. In a live setting however, it’s even more extreme, so it’s like an exclamation point and a question mark !?, which is something we writers use to visually express shock and disbelief.
Another key element is the extended soloing of guitarist Andrew King. The amount of fretwork he wields over the course of the band’s self-titled EP from Touch and Go is enough to make a jam band reference, which is not something this writer usually fancies. Yet, combined with everything else in the Crystal Antler crock pot, it makes perfect aural sense.
“Parting Song For The Torn Sky,” for example, revolves around a funky-ass bass line, which gets riffed over by King like aeroplanes dropping bombs on an apocalyptic landscape (with those ever-crashing cymbals ever-punctuating). By the time the first words are howled at a voice-cracking intensity, at the 2:19 mark, it feels as if we’ve been cowering in a shelter for weeks. Cowering from what? From “THE SKYYYYYYYYYY!” Singer/bassist Jonny Bell belts it out with such ferocity that blood must have flecked his saliva when it hit the pop filter in front of the microphone.
It’s trite, but there is a heavy influence of 60’s and surf rock on the EP, most notably via the funereal Hammond organ of Victor Rodriguez. Check it in “Vexation,” which speeds along at a breakneck, Doors-meets-Dick-Dale-in-a-crashing-dunebuggy speed. Meanwhile “Owl” has a certain Phantom of the Opera grandiosity to its organ parts, while “Until The Sun Dies (Part 2)” has bit of that Roddy Bottum style of synthesizer. Actually, one could easily make the argument that Rodriguez sets the tone for the entire EP. (He certainly did during the band’s performance at The Knitting Factory).
To describe the sound of the EP as a whole, it’s hard not to get clichéd Vietnam War imagery out of one’s mind. Whether it’s helicopters speeding over jungle landscapes or hippified soldiers chopping through bamboo en route to the next ambush, it all comes to mind. Perhaps we have Time Life books, Oliver Stone and Francis Ford Coppala to blame for that, but still… A lot of cats are going to want to blaze up a tree listening to Crystal Antlers.
The crown jewel of the band’s self-titled EP is “A Thousand Eyes;” a two-part song that abruptly switches tempo between the verses and the choruses, like a speeding car on the Autobhan suddenly slowing down to take in the scenery. It’s a scenery that takes only two ears to absorb, but a few replays and a thousand eyes might be required to notice all the subtle nuances. Yes, the Hammond organ is present, as are rolling waves of crashing cymbals, beautiful riffing from King and the rasped howl of Bell, whose excellent voice is easy (unfortunately) to take for granted amidst all the other fantastic stuff going on. His harmony during the latter half of “A Thousand Eyes” is one of the best moments on the EP, set to tom-toms and a slowly-building crescendo to the chorus. For all you lovers of melodic breakdowns, this song is what old hands will refer to as “The Joint,” and it’s probably the best example of Crystal Antlers nailing their art at 100% perfect.
But, this might not all come across via the studio recording. One reviewer noted the rather palpable difference between the band’s live set and the band’s sound on the EP. He was right. Though neither are to be missed, the live Crystal Antlers show is something else entirely. Standing front and center, it’s like being strapped to the prow of a Coast Guard Cutter going 50 knots into the wind. Six little bones in your ear drums will vibrate in a pleasant, new way, though it may not be an entirely safe, new way.
Yeah, it will tear your face off, like that scene in Poltergeist. And like the special effects team that worked on that classic Spielberg flicker, Crystal Antlers will not use CGI. This is that real, billion-times more satisfying use of raw, moldable materials, which is refreshing to hear in the current blitz of entirely synthesizer-based bands.
Now, don’t get me wrong; the EP is a must-have piece of music, definitely one for year-end “Best of” lists. It’s a very hard EP to stop listening to. But, having seen the live show, it’s blatantly obvious that the band takes things to – how did Phillip Anselmo say it – “A new level of confidence and power,” when performing live.
Of course, how long can the band maintain such a beast of a live show? Let’s hope Crystal Antlers can wrangle it into a long, slow burn, versus a brief flash in the pan. Furthermore, if you can, send the band protein shakes, bananas, and packets of Emergen-C. To keep tearing the faces off of fans the way they have been, they are going to need it.
Expect the band’s full length in June of 2009!
12/05/08 – Echo, Los Angeles, CA
12/26/08 – The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA
01/26/09 – Luminaire, London, United Kingdom
01/27/09 – Borderline, London, United Kingdom
01/28/09 – Lexington, London, United Kingdom
01/30/09 – ABC, Glasgow, United Kingdom
01/31/09 – The Pavillion, Belfast, Ireland
02/01/09 – Roisin Dubh, Galway, Ireland
02/02/09 – Whelans, Dublin, Ireland
02/05/09 – Bloomsbury Bowling Alley, London, United Kingdom
02/06/09 – Muziek-o-droom, Hasselt, Belgium
02/07/09 – 4AD, Diksmuide, Belgium
02/09/09 – 59:01:00, Munich, Germany
02/10/09 – Steinbruch, Duisburg, Germany
02/11/09 – Hafenklang, Hamburg, Germany
02/12/09 – Loppen, Copenhagen, Denmark
02/13/09 – Debaser, Stockholm, Sweden
02/14/09 – Debaser, Malmo, Sweden
02/16/09 – Magnet Club, Berlin, Germa
02/17/09 – Sonic Ballroom, Cologne, Germany
02/18/09 – La Laiterie, Strasbourg, France
02/19/09 – L’Aeronef, Lille, France
02/20/09 – Flech D’or, Paris, France
02/21/09 – Son’Art, Bordeaux, France
02/23/09 – Sonic, Lyon, France
03/02/09 – Le Romandie, Lausanne, Switzerland
03/04/09 – Botanique, Brussels, Belgium
03/05/09 – Vera, Groningen, Netherlands
03/06/09 – Paradiso, Amsterdam, Netherlands
03/07/09 – Ekko, Utrecht, Netherlands
03/08/09 – Rotown, Rotterdam, Netherlands
03/10/09 – White Heat, London, United Kingdom
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– Matt Lehtola