Four Takes: Crystal Stilts In Love With Oblivion Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on In Love With Oblivion by Crystal Stilts.
Crystal Stilts has spent quite a bit of time under the radar since their previous record, so to see them coming back with something new to top its predecessor requires a journey for the ear. What a journey In Love With Oblivion is, taking elements from krautrock and rockabilly aesthetics and transferring it to the shoegaze genre is an interesting take, specifically when it all hits on “Sycamore Tree”, then proceeds to go a more straight-forward approach on the single “Through The Floor.” Meanwhile most of the record sounds like it was recorded in a grain silo, using a similar approach to My Morning Jacket’s first effort, It Still Moves, and nowhere is that more evident on “Silver Sun,” while progression is their next best approach on “Alien Rivers.” Throughout Oblivion, the band proceeds to reach far and wide with their soundscapes through various elements introduced, and definitely make this a journey through psychedelica, which makes for a far more interesting record. Like Cut Copy, Crystal Stilts time between albums makes the effort well worth the listen, and for the majority of the album’s time it succeeds with astounding results.
Jon Schober (Radio K)
I’ll begin this review in saying how biased I am with this band. Stepping off a plane and into the Radio K studios three years ago, I was given their debut “Alight of Night” as one of my first CDs to review. I remember putting it on as I was walking across the street to my job when “The Dazzled” and its slightly off-beat tempo came on the headphones and I started laughing from excitement. This has been the only band whose music makes me smile within just a few seconds. The riffs are tight, the reverb is plentiful, and Brad Hargett’s vocals, indistinguishable as they may be, are some of the most powerful to listen to (the comparison to Ian Curtis is spot on).
So three years later, we finally get “In Love With Oblivion.” We were teased for months with random 7”s and then the brilliant single “Shake the Shackles” which became an underground hit for many. They would never tour outside of Brooklyn and many found themselves wondering if this band would ever release anything else. Frankie Rose left as drummer and suspicions became a little more dire in my mind.
When I heard the news about the forthcoming album, I e-mailed Mike, the owner over at Slumberland Records, and explained my excitement; his attitude was much the same as mine. He said that Crystal Stilts changed his entire outlook on music when he first heard them, something pretty prolific for a guy who has been running that label since the late 1980s.
Never have I listened to an album 30 times in the span of a weekend. That alone explains how insane “In Love With Oblivion” is. Every type of post-punk revivalism that was associated with their debut can be laid to rest in some respect. It still exists in this second incarnation, but Crystal Stilts have now refined brooding pop to a point that no one else in the music world can even hope to compare. Perhaps a superfluous statement, but I believe it. I thought things couldn’t get any better than “Shake the Shackles” until I heard the last three songs of the album: “Invisible City,” “Blood Barons,” and “Prometheus At Large.” The last fifteen minutes alone is some of the most inspired, frolicking rock I’ve heard. The album closer, which includes a nod to the classic tune of Velvet Underground’s “Run Run Run,” finally emits some lyrics which explains the album title, and to hear Hargett say “In love with oblivion…” alongside whatever the hell else he says is enough to drive me over the sonic cliff. And then the song unexpectedly ends. You’re left wondering again: how long will it be before they come back with another album as solid as this? And can it even get better in the first place?
They are coming to the Entry in May. See them- who knows when they will be back. Everything I have ever heard about their live show seems to be life-changing and I will probably cry like a buffoon. This is the band that made me love music all over again.
Jon B (Reviler)
It may just be a case of garage rock fatigue but I am having a harder time getting into the new Crystal Stilts album than their last one. On In Love With Oblivion I think I have just finally started to get weary of Brad Hargett’s one-note monotone. The record contains some excellent fuzzy garage instrumentation that dabbles in rockabilly and noise, but throughout the whole thing Hargett’s tune never really changes. It also doesn’t help that it sounds like his vocals were recorded at the bottom of a well. The gang still manages to pull off a few great jams (“Shake the Shackes” and “Death is What We Live For”) but on the whole I am just not connecting with a lot of it.
When I heard that Crystal Stilts were finally returning with their follow up to the excellent 2008 album Aight the Night, it caused me to return to the record, which I hadn’t listened to in a while. The record had worn well and was even better than I remembered, which caused my excitement level to increase. The first single from the record, “Shake the Shackles,” further upped my anticipation after hearing the jangly, reverb heavy garage rock the group does so well. Then I finally got to listen to In Love With Oblivion, the groups new records, and….it felt like “meh.” Maybe my expectations were too high, but the record doesn’t feel like it takes any interesting steps forward from Aight The Night. Yes, there are some good songs (specifically the charging “Death is What We Live For,” the VU copping “Prometheus At Large” and the previously mentioned “Shake The Shackles” ), but overall it feels like a “good” album when I was expecting “great.” Maybe that falls on my shoulders for having unrealistic expectations, but a great solo album can be a boon to a band, or it can be an albatross that is hard, if not impossible, to shake.
Writer / co-founder