The album art of the new Crystal Castles album features Samuel Aranda’s photograph of a woman holding her son, who is suffering from tear gas. Not only does this dark, horrifying image represent the overarching feeling of bleakness found in the music on this LP, but its use of color and blur also correlate to the general sound of the album. III does not immediately attack you, but surrounds you slowly until you can see nothing; it exists in a world of it’s own, which is gloomier, hazier, and harder than the previous worlds inhabited by Crystal Castles.
Most notably, III features a stronger cohesiveness than past Crystal Castles releases. More than ever, it seems as if Alice Glass and Ethan Kath are entirely more interested in crafting a singular art piece than an unrelated collection of songs. As opposed the seemingly random 8-bit bursts on their debut, or the dream-pop which sporadically reverts to spurts of dance punk, III is an album with a central sound, one which is not strayed from a certain faded beauty. Songs like “Kerosene” or “Telepath” are made to be in the dark context of III, and even the singles, like witch-house explosion “Plague“ and the truly epic, emotional powerhouse “Wrath of God,” sound more in-place when heard in the album’s sequential order. Nothing on III feels random at all, causing even the one exciting, punk-inspired burst to feel more retracted, distant, and cold.
Another aspect of this record which struck me is the use of Alice Glass’s vocals. Not only are they more obscured and unclear than ever before, they often function more as an instrument themselves rather than a method of delivering lyrics, such as on the aforementioned single “Wrath of God”. However, this is certainly not to say that the lyrics are dull or meaningless. To accompany the bleak, cold music, Alice provides lyrics about many different forms of oppression, suffering, and the general decline of humanity. It’s all very dystopian, which works to the advantage of the power of the music.
Without a doubt, the most controversial part of this recording is it’s production. As mentioned earlier, Alice Glass’s vocals are often unintelligible, the synths can become muddy, and the quick fade-ins are used a bit too much. “Mercenary,” for example, comes off like a shorter, muddy burst of something already stated often before on the record, and the simplicity of “Affection” is also its curse, as it comes off as a half-baked idea. In contrast, the production on here works more often than it doesn’t, and adds a more chilling, dreamier effect on tracks like “Violent Youth,” “Transgender,“ and “Telepath”. It also contributes to III‘s consistency and cohesiveness.
III is certainly not a perfect presentation Crystal Castles‘ witch-house bleakness, with the production and occasionally lacking songwriting stepping in its way. That said, it’s still a very powerful one. III is certainly the most skilled artistic statement that Alice Glass and Ethan Kath have created yet, and is well worth your time.