April 4th, 2011
Words: Tom Garrard
Photographs: Max Clark
Having burst through into the indie consciousness with their 2008 LP, Alight of Night, the Brooklyn noise pop act have kept busy since by releasing singles through Slumberland Records (home to musical comrades The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and A Sunny Day In Glasgow) and are now gearing up to release sophomore album, In Love With Oblivion. With fellow Brooklyn contemporaries such as Vivian Girls moving away from their shoegazing roots, I looked forward to the gig with anticipation about how, if at all, the sound of the five piece had changed.
First on stage were local trio The Sticks, a group who certainly stand out from the crowd in having a singing bassist and a stand up drummer playing at the front of the stage, both of whom regularly interchanged throughout their set. There was also ingenuity and novelty in their performance, with tremolo guitar on songs like Come Back mixing with shouted refrains reminiscent of early Husker Du and violent drumming. Yet at times through the first half of their set the tempo remained too low and the crowd seemed disinterested, a situation not helped by a band who’ve been on the local scene for years somehow managing to mess up a few openings to their material.
Led onto the stage by front man Brad Hargett’s unruly mop of brown hair, the New Yorkers open with the first two tracks of their new record, with opener Sycamore Tree’s frenetic rhythm enlivening a previously moribund crowd. In a set heavy on new material, it was clear to see from the outset that Crystal Stilts’ influences hadn’t changed much; not that this was to be a bad thing. For their next track, the band played one of their oldest songs, Departure. This was a great showcase for Hargett’s veiled vocals and guitarist JB Townsend’s early Cure like riffs. For a band for whom musical variety isn’t one of their strong points, non-album track Magnetic Man is something quite a bit different, with vocals sounding like “I fell in love with a Libyan” (at the best of times Hargett doesn’t make himself particularly clear) and a psychedelic rock flavour.
Crystal Stilts then raced up through the gears with the far more danceable Love Is A Wave, with distorted surf pop guitars accompanying Hargett’s almost lackadaisical croon. Yet while it’s a fantastic pop song, I was perhaps most surprised by the end of their set, which running slightly contrary to my musical prejudices actually reminded me how fantastic a guitar band can be when they chuck everything into creating a barrage of distorted, buzzsaw sound. Blood Barons and Prometheus at Large make up the final two songs of the new album and fans can expect the new album to close on a heavier note.