Having loyally followed Crystal Stilts since their inception, listening to Nature Noir has been sort of a personal issue over the last few weeks. At times, I’m completely in love, seeing some of the group’s best work come to fruition, yet other times, I get stuck in the muddier down-trodden sounds, inevitably giving the album a rest. Is it good? Yes. Is it great? Eh. Decide for yourself.
Each time I go through the first few tracks I’m not sure which side of the road I’ll end up on. “Spirit in Front of Me” has some great moments, with Brad Hargett’s deeply down-trodden vocals winning me over, but there’s this snaking horn that weaves in and out of the tune. And there’s “Star Crawl,” which features this great guitar sound, but there’s no real pace to the song; it sort of staggers in place, even with its nod to psych breakdowns. And then Nature Noir really begins to take off, for me anyways.
“Future Folklore” definitely takes cues from the world’s obsession with psychedelia, though they spin it in their own light, adding a pounding rhythm that really propels the song. Hargett has the perfect voice for this sort of tune, coated in this smoky sensation that lays the band alongside various contemporaries. It’s nestled right up to my favorite tune from the group to date, “Sticks and Stones.” You’ll find a kinder, gentler voice here, playing perfectly in step with this great guitar line that wouldn’t be out-of-place on a number of indiepop releases. If there were 9 more songs just like this, I’d easily proclaim this as my favorite LP of the year.
And there are definitely tunes that have a new feeling to them, though it’s definitely rooted in the sound Crystal Stilts have come to create. On “Worlds Gone Weird” I feel like they’re channeling Calvin Johnson whilst adhering to their own aesthetic. It’s songs like this with Brad’s vocals clearer than they’ve been that definitely make the latter part of Nature Noir worthy of repeated listens. I mean, if you can listen to “Nature Noir” and not find pure enjoyment out of the desert guitar sound juxtaposed with Hargett’s vocals then you’re a better listener than I. Ultimately, it all comes to a close with “Phases Forever,” and despite the overbearing atmospheric hum atop the song, I’ve grown to quite enjoy the tune. There’s an acoustic guitar at work, accompanied by the occasional string arrangement (which is part of that hum!) that really highlights the band’s growth. I feel like this is the perfect statement to wrap up the entirety of this album.
As I reflect upon the countless spins I’ve given Nature Noir, I begin to appreciate more of it than I initially thought. Sure, the first few tracks are probably my least favorite on the latest Crystal Stilts release, but I can’t hide from the fact that you’ll hear some incredible pieces within the confines of this record. I wouldn’t blame a soul if they loved this record, but I’ll have to settle for just liking it.