By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
Crystal Castles first pissed their way into our hearts with the irritatingly catchy "Alice Practice" in 2007. Since then, it's been impossible to reconcile manic devotion to a duo that seems to take pride in being total assholes. These total assholes, however, keep making great records that are impossible to stop listening to. This summer's pretentiously unnamed second full-length release by the act is even darker, but even more pleasant, than the group's previously pretentious and unnamed first record.
It's sort of like a case of Courtney Love fan syndrome: the inability to fall out of love with an artist's music even if said artist is, by all accounts, an obnoxious jerk. We've battled a Crystal Castles devotion for the better part of three years, straddling between a down-and-out obsession with Alice Glass's scream and a desire to shun Ethan Kath's glitchy tracks as numbing, passive club bangers.
In honor of this weekend's show at Grand Central, here is a list of some reasons why you shouldn't like Crystal Castles. In the end, it doesn't matter, though, because somehow they're impossible to dislike.
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Ethan Kath's arrogance as ignorance: Who knows what the real Ethan Kath is like? The person he presents in interviews — when he actually grants them — is an annoyingly self-assured, pompous oaf. Lucky for Kath, Glass's presence extends beyond her charmingly squeamish vocals, as we see her coolness play the perfect foil to Kath's nonchalant questioning of his band's existence. Kath's apathy isn't anything new to rock 'n' roll, but the jerk-accentuating beer-and-Ray-Bans posing doesn't seem to help Crystal Castles' cause.
They steal from other artists: When Crystal Castles decided to use Trevor Brown's "Black-Eyed Madonna" image for unauthorized mass production on merchandise and a seven-inch release, the artist was rightfully irritated. According to Brown's blog, it appears the copyright situation was taken care of, but not in a swift or friendly manner. Similarly, a music-licensing issue between the band and chiptune artist Lo-Bat went down when Glass and Kath apparently snagged and manipulated the Belgium-based musician's track to make "Insecticon." The Internet allows easy access to art — but it also allows the ease of appropriate legal consent. If you're not lazy.
Crystal Castles has no ambition, supposedly: "We have no ambition," Kath has declared. "There are 3,000 bands that deserve this more than we do." If there is no ambition involved, why have Crystal Castles' records been released on actual record labels? In the early days, the band allowed any label to release its music as long as no contracts were involved. But that has since changed.
There is something to be said for modesty, but when a band gets attention for not caring about getting attention, it's irritating. However, it's also proof that sometimes, no matter how hard an act works, the fate of its success isn't in the drive or even the product: It's all about the demand. Crystal Castles has mastered the craft of simple but effectively questionable art/club music. This supposed anti-ambitiousness really came through, in fact, when Kath and Glass faux-performed on an episode of the British teen drama Skins.
They hate disco, yet they make disco: Call it digital shoegaze. Call it eight-bit electro-punk without the chiptuning. Call it experimental chopped goth. Call it whatever you want — it's still well-crafted dance music. Genre umbrellas are a dangerous territory, and the bottom line is, it doesn't matter what you call it; Crystal Castles makes music for ass-shaking. Kath and Glass might align with the punk ethos when it comes to creating music, and for that, credit is due. But one thing is certain: These two jerks craft terrifyingly great club bangers. Or disco, for the layman.