I started listening to the new Crystal Stilts album In Love With Oblivion on May 21, 2011 – otherwise known as the day of the supposed “rapture.” I’m not sure if that was a good idea but I certainly know that when the world does indeed end, I know what album I’m going to listen to.
I’d always seen Crystal Stilts’ name tossed around with phrases like “dream pop” and, there are definitely some great tunes in this collection but In Love With Oblivion is pop like Lou Reed’s best work is pop – the listener has to work for every lilting melody and every familiar lyric.
A few points I think every one can agree upon, Crystal Stilts use repetition, psych melodies and tons of reverb to create a sound that not only generates immediacy but also shrouds itself in mystery. Unlike the kick-ass-BBQ-rock of No Age or the therapist-chair-pop of Deerhunter, (their brethren in the ambient punk movement), Crystal Stilts’ sound veers between Nuggets-y 60s garage, 90s shoegaze and timeless shimmering jangle. Their ability to somehow be influenced by both the Seeds and Slowdive is pretty unique and noteworthy. Where blog commenters might disagree is singer’s Brad Hargett voice. While some might find his deadpan delivery the perfect foil to Crystal Stilts’ world–weary point of view, others may find his issues with pitch and his limited emotional range grating and, eventually, boring.
As an album, In Love With Oblivion Starts off high and slowly lowers itself to the ground. The Stilts earlier work was opaque, less so with their new release. Though it opens with “Sycamore Tree,” an organ-driven romp featuring Hargett intoning the end of the world while the band bleats a monotone pulse, the album soon opens up into pop(ish?) gems like “Through the Floor,” “Half a Moon” and “Silver Sun,” shimmery, driving and tuneful. However as the album goes on, the band mixes this new push towards immediacy with some relentless psych jams, balancing muscularity with patience. The audio quality is also interesting; producer/guitarist JB Townsend finds a way to create a “wall of sound” wash that has real clarity. Hargett’s menacing baritone, which sounds like a cross between Reed and late-period Jim Morrison, cuts through it all. Like the villain in a movie in a language you don’t understand, his actual lyrics are hard to make out, but you can tell the message is sinister. The end result is not unlike an acid trip on the edge of being out control, both exhilarating and scary.
As we all know, the world didn’t end in May, but for all those who want to predict what the end will sound like, I recommend Crystal Stilts’ In Love With Oblivion.
Words: Stephe Sykes