** stars (out of four)
One look over the tracklist for Crystal Castles’ third album, which features the titles “Plague,” “Sad Eyes” and “Child I Will Hurt You,” should be enough to reassure any listener that the electronic duo has not abandoned its generally grim aesthetic. If anything, it may serve as a warning that Crystal Castles have absorbed some of the lessons of their successors in the past couple years, mining heavy bass and washed out vocals for a dark atmosphere rather than relying on in-your-face abrasiveness.
The result of this shift is an album that is more subdued than either of Crystal Castles’ previous outings, with no track as immediately arresting as past favorites like “Empathy” or “Alice Practice.” More polished, hulking basslines bring the Crystal Castles sound closer to pop or dance sounds—“Affection” could pass for a Timbaland outtake, while “Telepath” is one dubstep drop away from popping up in a Skrillex set. However, placing the bass so high in the mix also impedes movement over the course of individual songs and obscures elements such as vocals even more than the group might normally attempt.
The resulting music blends into a monotone over the course of the album, turning that aspired-toward grimness into something closer to a permeating unpleasantness. There's something admirable to the approach—particularly in the way that moments such as the airy ending of “Violent Youth” or the shimmering closer “Child I Will Hurt You” seem to rise out of it and offer relief—but the album is ultimately hard to enjoy, and not in a good way.
Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic
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