November 1st, 2011
Yes, the cover is minimal, but upon first sight, it’s really creepy more than anything else. Completely drowned in contrast until the only thing left is a couple of thick lines and a stencil cut-out of a small child, staring exceptionally… blankly. The image is something that gives me flashbacks to the second or third time I saw the Shining. Not the first time, where I was gripping the sleeves of my shirt, simultaneously frozen in sheer panic and attempting to dry the sweat on my palms. But rather, the times after that, when I knew was I was getting into as those twin girls popped up, and the groin-grabbingly terrifying panic attack was replaced with a much less intense, but still unsettling knot in the pit of my stomach.
The Crystal Stilts have been releasing plenty of new, straightforward, 1960s-inspired jangle pop, and the hooks have only been getting clearer and more bombastic. Those songs aren’t the ones represented here, on their self-titled debut EP. These are the tracks that leave much more to the imagination by more or less standing still in a drone-y, trance-y sort of way. It’s genuinely strange the way these songs keep you strapped in while getting your mind to wander, all amidst the shimmer of plate reverb.
“Bright Night Nursery” finds the band at its most immediate-sounding. This is the shortest track on the record, and is indicative of the band working at a quick pacing between song elements. Because of that, it’s also one of the cleanest cut tracks on the EP, providing a more articulated vocal delivery and distinct dynamics. The real payoff ends up being in how ephemeral the track is, blazing by and leaving only a slight trace in the back of your head.
As the last track on the record, “Converging in the Quiet” is a driving, pulsating mantra at the bottom of a stone-lined well. It jumps alive and swirls instantly into a reverbed oblivion, barely changing and always adding to the sound. Still, there’s something empty about the delivery that allows for a kind of detachment from the whole thing. There’s a touch of whirring white space somewhere between the incessant tom-toms and the whiplash guitar strumming.
Both tracks are also amazingly repetitive, which identifies another important aspect of the best garage revival acts today: find a groove and stick to it. It may sound crazy, but that sort of holding pattern helps this and other songs on the record, giving an oddly free range of motion to the instruments as they ring out. This is the thesis to music as a simple joy in life, especially when that joy is articulated in the strange contrast between dynamics and standing still.
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