Crystal Castles test the limits with unconventional new album
Crystal Castles' third album, (III), was recorded using a methodology that might seem unusual for an act often linked to EDM. The Toronto duo, producer Ethan Kath and vocalist Alice Glass, decamped to Warsaw, where they laid down tracks in one take using a '50s tape machine.
"We had an idea that we would communicate with no one," Kath says of the computer-free process. "We would be completely isolated. We moved to Warsaw because we didn't speak the language. We didn't know anyone."
But the process was as much about genuine im- perfection as it was about seclusion. "The first take captures the rawest ex- pression of an emotion," Kath notes. "Nothing is corrected; notes are wrong. If these notes were corrected, how would the song be different? I didn't want to know."
The bizarrely compel- ling album, which drops Nov. 12, centers on eclec- tic, futuristic haze and blips; all its tracks are unlikely candidates for commercial singles. Still, the band's man- ager, James Sandom of Red Light Management, and its new U.S. label, Casablanca/Universal Republic, found that Crystal Castles' online fan base had exploded toward the end of their push of soph- omore album (II), laying the groundwork on which to build a bigger, more mainstream act.
"Coming into the band's third record, the lines are quite defined in terms of what Crystal Castles are and how they operate," Sandom says. "They're an established act in most parts of the world now. They have a phenomenal foundation, and it's really our job to try and harness all of that and move them into another world where they're more commercially respected and recognized."
The label is purpose- fully releasing the album toward the end of the year in order to spend most of 2013 working the duo worldwide with extensive touring and radio pro- motion. The band hopes to parlay its prior suc- cess of 2010 single "Not in Love," which features vocals from the Cure's Robert Smith, into com- mercial success for (III)'s f lagship single "Sad Eyes." Leading up to the set's re- lease, however, the focus has primarily been on stimulating Crystal Cas- tles' following by releasing two unorthodox songs, "Plague" and "Wrath of God," through Facebook.
"Rather than tradi- tional marketing in print media or online, we were trying to use the hardcore fans at the core of every- thing we've been doing," Sandom says. "And it's been the first time in the band's career where we've been able to do that, be- cause those numbers have been steadily building over time. We put two deliber- ately left-of-center setup tracks out there, and both are achieving what we want [with a] huge online response."
For the band, which has cultivated a public image that mirrors its music in terms of strangeness, the emphasis is on channel- ing specific musical sensibilities onstage and off, not on manufacturing singles. Kath notes that the group is "focused on the album as a whole, and not concerned with which songs are heard first." The band's dynamic live perfor- mances, meanwhile, are largely unrelated to the recording process. "Al- bums and shows are two very different beasts," says Kath, who adds that the band hopes to release an acoustic EP in 2013 titled Affection. "When record- ing, I am capturing, bot- tling and preserving severe melancholy. The live show is focused on power."
The act, which recently wrapped a five-week U.S. trek in early support of (III), may seem distant from the business as- pects of its career, but that method has worked so far. "[This album] is more about a continuation of the things they've pro- duced before," Sandom says, "within the perime- ters that the band are com- fortable with."