Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Album Review: Crystal Antlers - "Nothing is Real" - eclipses what came before...

NEWS FLASH: Crystal Antlers put out great records. Their first album, Tentacles rocked and held promise in Jonny Bell's rebel yells. The promise was fully realized in Two Way Mirror with it's dreamy askew rock that felt at once dark and brooding but uplifting at the same time. Now in Nothing is Real, the Long Beach, California rockers have coalesced all their dark dream psychedelia into something embracing so many musical textures from indie to experimental and everything in between. It is a heady mix of sounds that often times explode around you.

Sonically speaking, Nothing is Real is, for the most part, in your face. It literally feels like Crystal Antlers is playing at full tilt and you are standing front and center about 18 inches from Kevin Stuart's drum kit. You are leaning in being held up by the wall of guitar sounds, so much so that you are hearing Jonny's vocals from the monitor mix more than the PA system so they are pulled back a bit. That is how this album sounds, live, unadulterated, super dense, and sonically all encompassing. Crystal Antler's sound punches you in the gut, makes you bleed and then pushes salt in the wound AND you love it.

It is easier to talk about some of the tracks on this record in terms of emotional cues and imagery than trying to describe the sounds being created. Pray is a rapturous victory run of raucous rock that catches it's breath in the middle only to erupt larger. At 3 minutes Andrew King plays a guitar lead so rich in melody and in tone that it literally give you goosebumps.  Rattlesnake is a mid temp slow burner on the verse and up tempo on the pre-chorus and chorus. That pre-chorus that feels so uplifting and melodically lovely is a key thing that Crystal Antlers does so well. The drums, bass and almost lazy rhythm guitar are really up front, tastily so. Licorice Pizza feels instantly like a mosh pit turned into a fight club but amidst the bashing punkish rock the chorus holds some dreamy melodies. The ending is ridiculous, either a guitar string sliding into dissonance or a violin. I don't know which.

There are also some softer flavors on this record. We All Gotta Die is a sweetly embracing indie rock song that glides along on double sliding notes. I thought a bit of Sonic Youth, a bit of Yuck. Don't Think of the Stone is awash in heavy organ, thick vocals and trippy guitar sounds. It feels like an East L.A. R and B meets psychedelic rock slow dance. Prisoner Song with it's ultra lush up front guitar lines and canny vox sounds like it is dipped in a thick syrup of 80's Romantic Wave. Part noise rock, glam, full force indie rock. It is so thick that it is the perfect song to lose yourself in when he or she has left you. Wrong Side has a shifty staggered beat and dancy guitar. It is built heavy but at it's core feels like a dreamy almost soft rock song. It may be the most mainstream song on the album.

Paper Thin is anything but. Punk in fury with a heavy metal brain. It is a bloody bull fight of a song. Epic in scope. Persephone is something else. Yes, it is a rock song but it has the bounce, the attitude and elegance of the glam pop rock of a band like ELO. The curtains of sustaining guitar sounds open to a beat that gallops like a majestic medieval quest. Anywhere but Here has a jumpy jangled slightly surf rock edged sound reminiscent of the songs on Two Way Mirror. Better Things churns with rabid punk guitar changes- Black Flag in tone but full on Crystal Antlers in the end.

Nothing is Real is just part of Crystal Antlers musical evolution. Like all great bands, each album takes you on a different journey. In my humble opinion this album eclipses what came before. Good job guys. This is a must have record.
Robb Donker

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