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Crystal Stilts: In Love With Oblivion

July 21, 2011

Roll: 1-12-5
Album: Crystal Stilts, In Love With Oblivion

When I worked at the university newspaper I got in an argument with Dave the A&E editor about whether or not it’s good music reviewing technique to reference other artists in a review. He took the high road saying your words should evoke the sound of the album on their own. It’s a nice theory, but in practice it lends itself to the kind of stream of consciousness gibberish Pitchfork has popularized.

Myself, I prefer it when reviewers just tell me who the album sounds like. Cut to the chase. After all, pretty much everything has been done before by people who were reinventing the wheel. It’s a little disingenuous to describe an album with flights of poetic fancy suggesting it’s something special. If the impossible happens and you’re actually reviewing a new artist who is entirely unique, fair enough, use poetry to describe the album.

Crystal Stilts‘ new album is pretty damn good, but it’s not terribly original. But in honour of Dave, I will attempt to describe the album without name-dropping the obvious influences that went into making it.

In Love With Oblivion is in love with oblivion. From the cosmic swirls on the intro of lead-track “Sycamore Tree” to the pulsing piano shuffle of album closer “Prometheus at Large”, the Stilts recreate the sound of a ’60s garage-band playing in an abandoned warehouse while  UFOs hover overhead pretending to be pie-plates suspended by fishing line. Brad Hargett‘s monotone baritone drones tunelessly behind warbling guitar tremolo and organ vamps buried in more reverb than an elevator shaft heading all the way to the underworld. The whole album is shot on the grainiest black and white film-stock, its details obscured to the point of almost total non-recognition at times. Is that Bigfoot or is it a shadow in the trees? But at the same time the experience is utterly vivid. You can almost taste the black coffee and smell the oil burning off the hot engine of a midnight black 1958 Plymouth Fury. I can guarantee that everyone involved with this record wore black turtlenecks and Ray-Ban sunglasses so impenetrably dark you could arc-weld with them. Some albums  help you see the world with rose tinted glasses, In Love With Oblivion reveals it to be gloriously dark. It’s like Andy Warhol‘s nihilistic vision for 1967 cranked up to 11 but both scarier and a lot more fun.

But if you want to know what the record sounds like, imagine a more Quaaluded-up than normal Jim Morrison fronting The Velvet Underground (their most obvious antecedents) on a set of lost Modern Lovers pop songs with Pink Floyd at the controls running it through an “Interstellar Overdrive” filter. Or if you want a contemporary comparison, this is the darkest, most reverb-laden slab of sonic nastiness The Raveonettes never made but always dreamed about. Thank god Crystal Stilts had the dark vision to tighten-up and greatly expand the basic sound of their debut album (Alight of Night) and see the nightmare through.

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