Darkwave darlings Crystal Castles continued existence was brought into peril with the departure of lead singer Alice Glass. Glass who was one half of the band core announced her exit from the duo in Oct 2014. Crystal Castles are known for their visceral, melancholy productions and chaotic live shows with Glass being the public focal point. The announcement seemed to indicate that the entity would unfortunately fall victim to the growing pains that frequently assail bands of their caliber.
Ethan Kath the other half of the duo and musical maestro, instead of throwing in the towel recruited a new partner Edith Frances to replace Glass and continue the musical pairing. The result is Crystal Castles’ fourth release, Amnesty which hits the usual outlets on August 19. “Amnesty” is the follow up to the critically acclaimed 2012 III. “Amnesty” makes a strong case for the band’s continued existence. It also marks the return for Crystal Castles from the longest break between their recordings.
The original iconoclastic duo formed in Toronto, Ontario in 2003. Since that time they have delivered a steady stream of engaging experimental electronica over their three prior releases. Ethan Kath has from the beginning has been the creative spark for the sound, songwriting and production of the band. Alice Glass was the fronts woman, public face and vocalist for the pair. Their eponymous debut was considered by NME to be a noteworthy entrant at #39 in the top 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade. Even more compelling was their 2013 release “III” which contained the duet with Robert Smith from The Cure for the song Not In Love.
“III” would score a number 1 on Tumblr and Hype Machine sites that year and the number 4 spot on the 2013 NME’s Album of the Year list. With Glass’s announced departure critics and fans believed the entity of Crystal Castles would come to an abrupt end. Many held their breath waiting to see what would result when Kath announced that he was continuing the duo with a replacement vocalist. Could the new configuration match the quality of their prior works? The release of the first singles Frail and Femen with new vocalist Edith Frances sounded promising. Frances’ first live outing on November 27, 2015 at Soundswild Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa lay to rest many concerns about her ability to front the band.
“Amnesty” turns the page for Crystal Castles in the personnel department allowing the creation to move forward. The album displays the same elements that drew their fans in the first place. It is filled with the same ferocious, breathless sonic soundscape, warped glitches and bruising bombast that have made the band unique. The album is compelling, uncompromising and yet tethered to the ground. Characteristic of the release is the kickoff track Femen which unfolds like an ethereal flower in the intro and then kicks into high gear with hypnotic and mesmerizing digital goodness.
The song also leaves no doubts that Frances can more than fill Alice Glass’s shoes. The songs on the release veer from all out fierce confrontational dance tracks like Fleece, a song that reminds me of the kind of music that used to play in cutting edge shops like Zipperhead on South Street in Philadelphia back in my salad days. To otherworldly songs such as “Frail” and “Chloroform” that convey a gauzy distorted feel. Along the way there are arresting songs like Char which is loaded with pixilated synths and Enth that has a true industrial dance ethos found throughout its murky dark goodness. There is also loads of energy laced among many of the songs that will make you forget the lyrics and just gyrate to the musical beats especially on songs like Concrete and Kept. Remarkably unlike many Dance/Electronica genre releases these tracks are brief and not long drawn out repetitive affairs. The songs charge forth making their impression and are gone before they can sometime be fully appreciated. There is just the right amount of ebb and flow on the tracklist to make the album engaging and hold the listener’s attention.
Amnesty is a great comeback from the threatening brink of extinction for Crystal Castles. The dealing in of Edith Frances on vocals has no negative effects on the release. Kath’s apt producing and guiding of the content leads to a satisfying release that will thrill their fans. Their sound seems to be the perfect soundtrack for the disjointed chaos that seems to permeate 2016. Amnesty like all of Crystal Castle’s output is informed by the heavily political and contrarian underflow the band is famous for and could be best described as confrontational dance music. Darkwave many not be everyone’s cup of tea but this album is the top of the crest for those who enjoy the genre and an excellent gateway for those listeners who are curious.