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Vegas-born, L.A.-based Crystal Method always got pegged as a Stateside answer to the Chemical Brothers. If that's the case, it took the duo more than a decade to duplicate the Brothers' formula: massively danceable, drugged-out epiphanies with loads of very special guests.
When Crystal Method started out in 1994, the group was far more stripped-down. The partnership of Scott Kirkland and Ken Jordan ran primarily on synths, drum machines, and samples cribbed from films and funk records. But duplicate the Brothers they have. The last two Crystal Method albums used the Chem Bros template — though the guests weren't as special — and as demonstrated by last year's uncharacteristically diverse Divided by Night, the VIP list is hotter. That more than helps renovate the sound; in fact, it completely reboots it.
Though the two bandmates now operate out of Crystal Works, their Los Angeles bunker/studio, their first album, 1997's Vegas, paid homage to a hometown that Kirkland insists "was really not that cool." Jordan, who notes that none of their parents was involved in the gambling or entertainment industries, says the hippest thing about living in Las Vegas was "driving across the Hoover Dam."
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Crystal Method's stomping, four-four workouts occasionally sound like monumental edifices, especially on the debut, which is still the biggest-selling item in the act's back catalogue. Tweekend (2001) and Legion of Boom (2004) similarly relied on perfectly placed vocal snippets for their viability, though Boom showed an interest in using outside singers.
Kirkland points to a single concert — "Depeche Mode, Nitzer Ebb, and Electronic here in L.A. on the Violator tour, which would have been summer of 1990" — as the impetus to begin his own methodology with Jordan. The thumping, metallic brittleness of those bands still shines through their songs, only now there's a recent trend toward pop accessibility.
Still, considering those influences, the most successful collaboration on Divided by Night isn't a vocal one. Peter Hook of Joy Division/New Order infamy breaks out his high-necked Hooky bass leads to both "Dirty Thirty" and "Blunts and Robots." His playing, unmistakable from any distance, was improvised on the spot in the studio.
The other vocal-based teamups are interesting on paper, at least: Jason Lyttle (ex-Grandaddy) whispers along with the industrialized bounce of "Slipstream"; LMFAO audibly enjoys the silliness of "Since Language"; but Matisyahu nearly deifies "Drown in the Now," though veering fairly far from old Crystal Method turf.
Fans who miss the beam-shuddering beats and experimental feel of the older records can still locate them on the title track and "Double Down Under," where the hard-edged, old-school party sounds like it never stopped rolling — literally. And they'll hear them aplenty at Gryphon this weekend, when the duo will play a DJ set that should be heavy on original tracks.