Amnesty (I) is a big deal for Crystal Castles fans. Sure, any fan would be excited for a new album, but this album represents the first time Crystal Castles have made music without the vocals of Alice Glass. Following a very public break-up, Ethan Kath soon employed new vocalist Edith Frances to cover vocal duties. The already stagnating sound of Crystal Castles was given hope of revitalisation; a new vocalist promised new ideas, a different perspective, perhaps improvement. This should have been a record where Crystal Castles shifted their sound and gave a real statement of intent, but instead it is a timid caricature of themselves. The inspirational stagnation, it seems, has developed into a deep rot. Unfortunately, Amnesty (I) doesn’t capitalise on the freshness of a new vocalist, and instead presents us with a grotesque reproduction of their past work.
One thing Amnesty (I) is, however, is noisy. The songs are ferocious, the beats are obscured by harsh layers of noise and the percussion almost jumps out of the track; it’s a sonic barrage for the listener. ‘Fleece’ is the clearest example of Crystal Castles moving into noisier, more rave inspired music. They are songs that threaten to enter dance music territory, but still stay embedded in mild experimentation. The songs on Amnesty (I) are certainly danceable, but they lack that fine balance between danceability and good songwriting to make it an appealing listen from start to finish. Songs like ‘Fleece’ are symptomatic of the overall issue of the album. The beats slap, but it lacks the nuance required to make these songs effective. The noise, it seems, is not there to enhance the track, but merely to camouflage their lack of original ideas. Under the layers of noise lie songs that are significantly more lazy than Crystal Castles’ previous work. They are songs that threaten to go straight for the throat, but with a butter knife.
The album does have the odd beautiful moment, however. ‘Char’ – the highlight of the album – is the closest Crystal Castles come to re-capturing their previous form. Frances’ vocals lay bare against a synthetic backdrop as she is – for once – allowed to stretch her soprano vocal range to its full potential. She sounds mature, in control, comfortable in her own voice. Sadly, Frances is limited on the album. She is often drowned out by Kath’s desire to fill the track with noise. New vocalist Frances does a competent job on the record, but she is not the distinct shift in vocals fans may have hoped for. If someone was ignorant to Alice Glass’ and Ethan Kath’s split, they wouldn’t be able to notice the difference between Frances’ vocals and that of Glass’ for the majority of the album. This isn’t to say Frances’ vocals aren’t decent, however. She is able to match-up to Glass’ ability to juxtapose calm vocals with a fervent ferocity which is a feat in itself. Perhaps Frances, much like the duo at the moment, need time and inspiration to (re)find their own voice.
Amnesty (I), as opposed to Crystal Castle’s previous LPs, is a result of grit and rigour, not a result of experimentation or inspiration. Unfortunately, the result of this rigour is an album that is merely passable. It lacks in the magic and spontaneity of their previous efforts. The production is far too shallow, far too engrossed in overused ideas from their oeuvre. Crystal Castles haven’t just trodden the well-worn path of their past, but they got lost on it, too. It’s certainly an adrenaline rush, but like all rushes it fades far too quickly.
Words by Benjamin Newman