It’s a messy and ugly business, the history of Crystal Castles. Electro-punk pioneers Ethan Kath and Alice Glass, who spat venomous bile on thrilling, chaotic tracks like ‘Alice Practice’ for three essential albums, parted ways in 2014. Accusations and acrimony followed from both sides.
He wrote an online post that referred to Glass as “my vocalist” and dismissed her artistic contribution to the band – then later downplayed the statement, insisting: “I’ll always love her and sincerely want her to do well and be happy.” Glass wrote on her website about an “abusive relationship” she had been locked into for years (not specified with whom) and tweeted about her large creative role in the duo. It’s clear even from the outside, as an admirer of their blistering and brutal live shows, that she was integral to Crystal Castles’ initial success. This fact weighed heavily on Kath’s announcement that he would return with a new vocalist, Edith Frances, whom he met while couch-surfing in LA.
Yet Frances’ contribution to the band marks the continuation of a new direction. Crystal Castles’ third album, 2012’s ‘(iii)’, had seen the band explore a more contemplative, spacious sound, with atmospheric synths largely in place of the frenetic chiptune of their 2008 self-titled debut. Recently released Crystal Castles 2.0 tracks such as ‘Chloroform’ and ‘Char’ saw the band split the difference, with moody atmospherics chopped up with electro squalls that recalled the intensity of earlier work.
‘Fleece’, the latest track from upcoming fourth album ‘Amnesty’, is a pure distillation of these developments. Much of the track is a chill breeze, with Frances’ voice alternately played straight and warped into a ghost-like moan, though stark moments of snotty punk aggression break through: rave rhythms burst like violent protest sporadically through ‘Fleece’ and a second layer of distorted vocal grates against the listener like a strip of barbed wire. Crystal Castles won’t ever be a band that makes things simple; even their most harmonious material throbs with menace.
The proceeds of ‘Amnesty’ will be donated to Amnesty International. This perhaps indicates a kinder, less self-destructive Crystal Castles. Yet the menacing aspects of this track indicate that the internal conflict continues even with the new line-up.