Crystal Antlers – Nothing Is Real

crystalRating: ★★★★½

For two albums, Crystal Antlers have successfully combined their love of noise and hooks to create some pretty fascinating music.  But, that being said, I don’t think anything fully prepared us for Nothing Is Real.  It’s sonically exploratory, yet catchy in every way, showing a band that finally has found the perfect balance between captured raw energy and pop sensibility.

“Pray” slowly drops us into the midst of Nothing Is Real, teasing us momentarily before we’re rushed off with a frantic pace into the realm that we’ve come to know so well from these guys.  There’s a harsh quality to the vocal delivery, yet just beneath that growl, you can hear this pop presence.  It’s made even more clear by the howling “oooh” that lurks in the mix.  For me, the focus on making the negative space into meaningful music is what makes this listen to perfect.  And, as you bounce along in the opening moments of “Rattlesnake” the whole of the record begins to take shape. A slow spoken vocal takes control, before you’re pushed into the erratic shout of “rattlesnake.”  In returning to that softer space you can see just how far the group has come; they’ve built this song just for you.

For most of the record, they stick to the same formula, though I haven’t heard Crystal Antlers execute it as well as they have here.  Even so, there are still some beautiful surprises that I didn’t expect.  “We All Gotta Die” is a sprawling ballad, coming in at just under 6 minutes long.  I fully expected the song to erupt with bombast as the song neared the end, and while there’s definitely a louder sound drawn out, it’s nowhere near the explosion I thought I’d get.  It’s nice to know that bands you adore can still change things up on you from time to time.

Just don’t think that the dudes have gone entirely soft on you; you only need to listen to “Persephone” as proof.  It takes a mere seconds for the distortion to introduce you to the group’s heralded wall of noise, though with their special restraint.  This jam illustrates to me the group’s best dynamic, walking a fine line between insanity and pop stardom.  Just imagine the Fresh and Onlys in a mosh pit. “Better Things” also offers a glimpse at the captivating live aspect of the group, featuring an explosive percussive sound working in unison with these sharp guitar chords and shouted vocals.  I don’t know how they’ve captured this energy, but one can immerse themselves within the confines of a sweaty pit while listening to this track; please be safe.

As a fan of Crystal Antlers, I’ve been waiting for this day.  They’ve always captivated me with their live energy and raw power, yet it hasn’t always translated perfectly to tape.  Nothing Is Real, however, does just that.  It fits the explosive power of a group at the top of their game into a concise album that’s still brimming with accessibility despite its dangerous undertones.  This is an album to be reckoned with for some time to come.


Download: Crystal Antlers – Licorice Pizza [MP3]

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