Thursday, May 26, 2011

review- crystal stilts at the empty bottle 5.20.11/permanent records 5.21.11

One of the great disappointments to me in the current musical landscape is the glut of fashion-victim bands parading around trying SOOOO hard to look ‘cool.’ I like to think of the source of this disappointment as having come of music listening age in the 90s when bands made a habit of looking like they’d just rolled out of bed minutes before their photo and video shoots. There were exceptions to this rule, but generally looking like you were presenting yourself as anything other than what you actually were was roundly frowned upon in those days and often made you a target for ridicule. A friend brought up a good Mac McCaughan quote that sums it up very nicely—to paraphrase, the best bands were always the ones that looked like their mothers dressed them. I suppose anyone could grasp what I’m getting at here by this point. Crystal Stilts would fall under the category of a very normal-looking bunch who make some truly extraordinary music.

‘In Love With Oblivion’ is high in the running for my favourite new releases of this year. ‘Alight of Night’ and the self-titled EP were always what I thought of as being what I wished Interpol sounded like but couldn't even on their best days. Even that would be selling them short a bit—there’s so much going on in their music—60s production and sound washes, a post-punk approach and aesthetic (their studio album reveal themselves for the unadorned gems that they are when one witnesses them live—what sounds like studio additions are revealed as having been there from the moment the tape started rolling), gloom, angst, frustration and nail-biting tension mix with the occasional laid-back moment (i.e. ‘Lights’ off of the self-titled EP—a personal favourite of mine). That’s to say nothing of the Gun Club quoting and flamenco flavored ‘Blood Barons’—one of many examples of new ground covered on ‘In Love With Oblivion.’

At the Empty Bottle the band stuck to the side of their output that favors faster tempos—they started with ‘Sycamore Tree’ and kept the pace going at about that clip throughout the course of the night. The band had prepared projections for their live show, but the DVD they inserted into the Bottle’s projector didn’t work so the band played the entire night bathed in stark white light. It worked just fine. The night went on surprisingly fast. Conditions were just right as well—a large crowd but not of the sold out elbow-to-elbow variety. I had been holding out a vain hope that they might break out the extended slow-jam ‘Alien Rivers,’ but I suppose that that would’ve killed the carefully constructed momentum and mood they'd built up over the course of their set. I have a soft-spot for what I call ‘the mutant track’ on nearly every album that I own—you know the one, it’s the song that sounds completely different from everything else on the album, it’s usually the slowest, quietest track and often the one that you skip (or listen to and love if you’re smart).

Once I got home I’d thought that I had had enough of them as I’d never planned on attending their free instore at Permanent Records the next day (I am usually at work on Saturday afternoons, but had been fired from my longtime cafĂ© job on Monday) but found myself at the Wormhole drinking coffee and eating a donut thinking about the show the night before. Once 1pm rolled around I was getting into my car to make the short trek down there. Well worth it again as they treated the afternoon audience to a fairly different set—they played ‘Converging in the Quiet’ as well as tracks from ‘Alight of Night’ and even ‘In Love With Oblivion’ that had been skipped the night before. They tried to stop after only 20 minutes; indulging the crowds’ protests with a dead-on reading of one of the most perfect 45 speed single tracks ‘Love is a Wave.’

I’m excited to hear what’s next from them—hopefully it won’t take another three years to hear. Even if it does, though, it’s going to be worth the wait. Talk about overcoming the sophomore slump…

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