I’ll be the first to say that I can’t ever get enough of Crystal Antlers in the live setting. Their energy, the raw power of the vocals and drenched audience just never gets old. That being said, their recording material has sort of been hit or miss for me. After an EP and an album, the band return with Two-Way Mirror, and it finally seems that they’re forging new grounding, melding the tightness of their live show with promising recorded material.
“Jules Story” begins the record seemingly where Tentacles left off. There’s that marching drum beat, with killer fills, and Johnny Bell’s vocals scratching at his throat, and your ears. By no means can you consider it a bad track, it’s just not anything exceptionally new. “Seance” is where you’ll find the band branching into slightly new territory. They’ve included bits of melody that have always bubbled beneath, but this time, they’ve chosen to reveal them, clearing away the excess noise without losing the song’s power. Bell’s vocals, here, don’t seem as urgent, yet they still beg for your attention; it’s the perfect melding of their live performance and what one looks for in recorded material.
Just because they clean things up, however, doesn’t mean you’re going to lose any of that furious energy they’ve always unleashed. In the one-two punch of “By the Sawkill” and “Two-Way Mirror” you’ll see that, if anything, the cleaner approach to the recording only allows you to focus more firmly on the explosiveness within the tracks. In the past, they’ve been too dynamic for their own good, often making it hard for listeners to really focus in, but this isn’t the case on Two-Way Mirror. You can still here the experimentalism, such as the tinkering of noises while the guitar screamingly crawls through the background at the end of “By the Sawkill.” Combine that with Bell’s vocal performance on “Two Way Mirror,” and the remarkably drumming, and you’re sure to see that these excellent tracks will transmit perfectly to the live setting.
One of the problems that I found listening to the first record from Crystal Antlers is that the noise eventually bled into the ensuing noise, and tracks became indiscernible. But, my favorite track from the group lives in the heart of this record: “Fortune Telling.” It’s easy to pan it as a psychedelic moment, and maybe it is, but it’s excellent. Bell sounds incredible, and the pacing of the track is perfect, never pushing to quickly. And, it all moves perfectly into the following track, “Always Afraid.” It’s probably my favorite moment of the group to date.
Perhaps my past listens to previous Crystal Antlers were too harsh, although I always liked them enough to repeatedly seek them out live. But, with Two-Way Mirror, the band seems to have discovered the missing link between recording music and being a live animal. Bits of eloquent noise have quietly been pulled back, revealing a record with sharpness at just about every corner. It’s clear that the band still wants to push themselves, and that’s great, as long as they keep offering up the exact recipe they used during this session.
Download: Crystal Antlers – Summer Solstice [MP3]