There was a second-hand shop on the end of Bilston High Street, and every few weeks my dad would go there and buy me a game for my Atari 2600. He bought some fantastic games from this shop, including Pitfall, Pac-Man, Kangaroo, Pole Position and Combat. But the best game he ever brought back for me was Crystal Castles.
The premise of Crystal Castles was a very simple one: you played a bear called Bentley whose job it was to wander around a maze of rooms in a giant castle and collect blue gems while avoiding walking trees, swarms of bees and wicked witches. As well as being on the look-out for crystals, you could also find sustenance in convenient pots of honey that had been left lying around. I spent many hours playing this game, and so when a band burst on the scene with the same name, I had to check them out.
The eponymous debut album by Crystal Castles is a mixed-bag. The opener ‘Untrust Us’ is a tremendous piece of music. Combining chip-tune inspired sounds with hacked up samples from the opening notes of Death From Above 1979’s blistering ‘Dead Womb’ is certainly original. ‘Alice Practice’ burrows further into the chip-tune influence with 8-bit drum sounds combining with power-up noises and laser beam blasts. I like this song as a concept, but find it infuriating to listen to. It reminds me of the sound one might hear walking through a crowded sea-front amusement arcade. ‘Crimewave’ is a great song. The Commodore 64 synth-sounds are little more restrained, as a disco bass-line pumps over the solid dance beat and fractured electronic vocals glitch and pulsate around the mix. ‘Xxzcuzxx Me’ is a noisy and distorted piece of Mario-punk. Female vocals scream over relentless beats and power-up noises. This one is a bit too much for my poor ears. ‘Air War’ just doesn’t seem to go anywhere – it plods along with a bit of a funky beat and computer bleeps, but doesn’t really do a great lot. ‘Courtship Dating’ is another excellent piece of music, with its layers of synth creating some awesome chord changes. ‘Good Times’ is another boring track. It’s as if they came up with a really nice riff, but weren’t sure how to evolve the melody. ‘1991’ could easily be the theme music on a Megadrive game, and doesn’t feel like a dance record at all. It’s quite a cool piece of music, managing to sound layered and airy at the same time. ‘Love and Caring’ brings us back into the noisy, almost unlistenable territory of ‘Alice Practice’ – it makes for very uncomfortable listening. ‘Black Panther’ reminds me of the type of music they used to play at the ‘alternative alternative eighties’ night at a club called Subculture in Leeds - bizarre gothic synth music played at a frenetic pace. ‘Tell Me What to Swallow’ departs from the brashness of the album and descends into the realms of shoegaze. An acoustic guitar drones over the mix and dreamy female vocals wash over you. It reminds me of something that Slowdive might have done. If Rachel Goswell had sung the vocals to ‘Dagger’, it would have probably sounded something like this.
This is a difficult album to know whether or not to keep. It has some excellent songs, but it also has some needless filler. The sixteen tracks on the album could have easily been cut down to ten, and made for a consistently good album, but as it stands there are quite a few tracks I’ll always skip past. That being said, there are some pieces of music on here that I’d hate to get rid of. So, it looks like this one’s a keeper.