Album Review: Crystal Swells - 'Goethe Head Soup'

Album Review by Dan Nightingale 

Crystal Swells 'Goethe Head Soup' starts off with no introduction whatsoever, exploding straight into extremely noisy, heavily distorted rock and roll. There's a thick layer of digital grunge over everything, like the whole album was run through some old Boss distortion pedal as a mastering stage. Underneath the layer of dirt, one can faintly make out vocal harmonies and frantic, well played guitar solos.

There's a vibe of country twang, heavily reverberated vocals, and an intense amount of energy. The second tune turns down some of the dirt and comes in with moderately clean drums and bass. There's still a crackly digital sheen over everything, but the cymbals are clean and you can hear the separation between the guitar and bass. As the song drives into the chorus you can almost see the meters peaking in the red as the vocals overload their reverb effects before sliding back into clean guitar and bass which is actually quite catchy and menacing.

'Dead Awake' starts off like a Saturday morning cartoon theme song run through a blender before descending into another dirty pit of cavernous moans. I think the most interesting part of this album is the separation between timbre and musical style – the band mashes up what sounds like evil indie rock ala Old Time Relijun, with Beatles and Kinks inspired pop hooks, with the production of a harsh noise band. It's an unusual combination, and it works for people who happen to enjoy both of those disparate ideologies. Ignoring the accidentally clichéd use of 'Crystal' in their band title, these guys come across as both fresh and suitably 'ironic attitude' enough for most fans of modern music in 2011.
The album continues on this path of rewarding melodies and experimental production, though one can't help but think this style would have worked better 40 years ago with analog tape machines and mastering to vinyl records. To be fair the album is primarily available on cassette tape, which we unfortunately were not able to access, as our only tape deck is sadly broken.

The title track, 'Goethe Head Soup,' showcases the most experimental concepts song wise, with long single chord drones underneath Fugazi style vocals buried in more distortion and reverb. The song churns out without much focus for a few minutes, eventually finding itself stuck in an endless loop like the end of Liars record. This is no doubt an attempt at a trance like state ala the Velvet Underground or Wooden Shjips, but it's up to the individual listener to determine if it works for them. White noise cymbals take over the last half of the track before everything starts to break down and musicians are bent over their pedal boards frantically twisting knobs to find the limits of sound.

Fortunately the album doesn't end there and the thematic vamp of “Swamp People” snaps the trance and takes you to a 1950's movie theater or a post-ironic stage play with an old school monster jam. Overall the album will appeal to fans of Tyvek and new school garage noise – if you're young and hip enough to allow your ears to adjust to the traditionally terrible production style, there are plenty of catchy melodies and compelling jams to keep you interested. It would be interesting to see these guys live as they no doubt put on an intense show, but for now check out the band camp, get the tape, and hope for a full Canadian tour.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Like all CS recordings, this was recorded very loudly onto an old, broken tascam cassette 4-track.