Crystal Castles, the Canadian duo of producer Ethan Kath and vocalist/songwriter Alice Glass’ third eponymous album “(III)” is not much of a departure from the continuity of their sound. Their signature brand of damaged yet danceable, glitchy yet polished, and often confrontational, synth-tinged electro-pop is still present, but what it lacks in originality it makes up for in production value.
“(III)” is just as haunting and raw as the other material in their catalogue, but it’s certainly less playful and a more focused production. The terseness of the tracks on the album is somewhat of a detriment to their sound. Critics have chided their often-experimental sounds as being jarring, but this album is not nearly as experimental, and it’s more jarring to listen to because of this fact. Kath took fewer risks as a producer and stuck to tried and true, generic, four-to-the-floor dance beats that come off as lazy and uninspired.
Tracks like “Kerosene,” “Affection” and “Pale Flesh” all showcase Kath’s eye toward dub, drum and base, and even trap music, but these are the worst offenders on the album. They do not sound like anything that Crystal Castles would make; they sound phoned-in and hokey.
Another contender for why this album does not have the staying power of their previous fare is how Kath uses reverb in relation to vocals. Crystal Castles are not exactly known for their lyrical prowess, but it seems that they just keep distorting Alice Glass’ voice to the point where it’s an unpleasant noise.
The only real gem on the album is the closing track “Child, I Will Hurt You.” A purely beautiful dream pop song with sweeping and glowing synths and harps, it feels like a demented lullaby that would fit perfectly in a Tim Burton film.
On the whole, Crystal Castle’s third album is somewhat of a disappointment in contrast to their highly daring and innovative second album, but this album is evidence that Ethan Kath and Alice Glass are expanding as artists. Crystal Castles is a never-ending work in progress.