Since the game-changing Toronto natives came onto the music scene back in 2006 (active since 2003), the duo of Ethan Kath and Alice Glass were arguably two of punk’s most crucial components. And while many will be unwilling to even call their electronically-charged variation of sound rock, Glass and Kath together were still amongst the wildest, more influential, and most beloved rockstars on the planet. Bringing an asphyxiating menace to their quality of music, fans found asylum, escape, and physical release inside of Crystal Castles’ revered craftsmanship. Which is why Alice Glass’ announcement of her leaving permanently in pursuit of a solo career (and other unknown reasons) a week ago struck such a fatal blow to the band’s following. But while their disbandment might feel too premature, we can always look back on the reasons why they were so heralded to begin with. I present to you: SNTW’s 10 Favorite Crystal Castles Songs.
“Celestica” so enchantingly strikes a chord with fans because of how perfectly it contrasts with Crystal Castles’ usual fair. Kath creates a calm, arresting atmosphere through a house understructure lush with vibrant synth keys and fleeting clicks. Yet all of this is centered around the peaceful cooing of Alice Glass, whose voice sounds alarmingly soft and alluring when matched against a “Fainting Spells” or “Doe Deer” (see below).
Lift the light, techno-dance blips of Homework-era Daft Punk, couple that with an aptness for synth arrangement and the semi-distant, droning voice of a then fledgling frontwoman, and you get Crystal Castles’ first hit from back in 2007. Said to be a reflection of what it would feel like to be trapped in a Pac-Man maze for all eternity, “Crimewave” was originally a Health song, which was then diced up with all the digital prowess of a Gameboy, distorted, and re-structured by Kath. By continuously looping the song’s five lines over the course of its four-minute duration, “Crimewave” probably functions as the most true-to-form EDM track in all of the duo’s discography.
8. “Pale Flesh“
With a warped, quasi-hip-hop beat, “Pale Flesh” plays out like a lucid dream: hazy around the edges, yet ultimately clear and direct. The hard thumps of the 808 might be its most prominent quality, but Kath’s ever-present fluttering of synths counters the ghoulish quality of Glass and her spectral voice ambiguously speaking of rebirth.
7. “Doe Deer“
If you want a prime example of modern, experimental punk rock at its finest, look no further than the swift thrill ride that is “Doe Deer”. Over a minute and thirty seconds of raucous rage made tangible, listeners are instantly transported from a quiet dorm room, peaceful train ride, or otherwise humdrum existence, to the throng of a dark and dense audial mosh pit, equal parts demonic and chaotic.
“Kerosene” could compare with “Celestica” in the sense that Alice’s voice is again used for soothing effect, rendering a hypnotic ambiance and trance-like state. “I’ll protect you from all the things I’ve seen,” sings a comforting Glass. But that’s where the comparison ends, as the song’s fleeting synth progression and deep bass line are texturally divergent from its heavenly counterpart. Still, “Kerosene” possesses a danceable quality to it in the most infectiously unorthodox of ways, elevating it to the top tier of the duo’s collection.
Call it what you want: screamo rave, electro-punk, acid EDM. Whatever subgenre you decide on, nothing stops the strident locomotive that is “Baptism” from laying waste to anything and everything. It doesn’t really matter that Glass seems like she’s taken one too many shots of Henny to the head, nor that you can’t quite make out anything she’s saying. That’s all because Ethan Kath’s production engulfs with all the force of a black vortex, allowing for an out-of-body experience that you don’t necessarily have to be zonked-out on drugs for. “This is your baptism! And you can’t forgive ’em!”
In all of human history, there might not be a song title more representative of its source material than “Insulin”. Like a shot of adrenaline to the system, the short track could be viewed as the younger cousin to “Doe Deer”, just as wild and maybe even more engaging. Apocalyptic in every sense of the word, “Insulin” is what I imagine would be played in one of those matrix-like, end-of-the-world, rave scenes you’d witness right before everyone succumbs to the dooming events of the final battle.
As perhaps the only track that could give “Crimewave” a run for its money in being true EDM, “Empathy” exists as a mesmerizing form of industrialized electropop. In it, the vocals of Alice Glass sound ethereal, yet atypically clear when compared to her usual profile in CC’s formidable anthology. “Symmetry, you must work in symmetry,” chants Glass like an unseeable matriarch speaking to an endless assembly line of laborers. “You must earn their empathy,” she goes on, as the song mutates into a distinctly sinister blend of nu-rave and italo-disco.
2. “Not In Love” feat Robert Smith
“Not In Love” was originally a 1983 single by the band Platinum Blonde which, all things considered, still holds up pretty well in 2014. But the supplement of sound Ethan Kath is able to imbue his version with is too formidable for the original to overcome. Later enlisting a lovelorn Robert Smith of The Cure, the modern cover possesses all of the torment and melancholy of someone who realizes their significant other is, in fact, not in love with him/her. And that life-altering realization is truly made potent in one of Crystal Castles’ best songs to date.
Initially, what makes “Plague” so good is that it is able to be so many things at once, without losing it’s inherent sense of terror. Unrepentant and unsettling. Powerful and evocative. Dissonant and uninhibited. All of those aforementioned descriptors could detail the song that functions as a definitive tone-setter. And with Glass speaking on youth, conquest, corruption, and purity, it’s easy to get lost in the enveloping scope of it all. But you’re brought back in by her deathly, anthemic proclamation of “I AM THE PLAGUE.” By sending shivers down collective spines, while simultaneously unlocking something deeply primal inside those ensnared by it, the album intro for (III) is the unshakable pillar upon which much of the Crystal Castles fandom stands (and it also makes for one hell of a set-opener).