Since Crystal Castles first pissed their way into my heart with the irritatingly catchy "Alice Practice" in 2007, I haven't been at peace with my manic devotion to a duo that seems to take pride in being total assholes. These total assholes, however, keep making great records that I can't stop listening to; this summer's pretentiously unnamed second full-length release is even darker and more pleasant than the group's previously pretentious and unnamed first record.
To me, it's my own case of Courtney Love Fan Syndrome: The inability to fall out of love with an artist's music even if said artist is, by all accounts, an obnoxious jerk. I've battled my Crystal Castles devotion for the better part of three years, straddling between a down-and-out obsession with Alice Glass' scream and a desire to shun Ethan Kath's glitchy tracks as numbing, passive club bangers.
In honor of tonight's show at Grand Central, I've come up with some reasons you shouldn't like Crystal Castles. (Keep in mind: This list was selfishly created with the hope of turning myself away from a band I feel sick over liking so much. Maybe you will learn to dislike it better than my small mind can.)
Ethan Kath's arrogance as ignorance. Who knows what the real Ethan Kath is like? The person he presents in interviews is an annoyingly self-assured, pompous oaf. Lucky for him, Glass' presence extends beyond her charmingly squeamish vocals, as we see her coolness play the perfect foil to Kath's nonchalant questioning of his own band's existence. Kath's apathy isn't anything new to rock 'n' roll — but the jerk-accentuating, beer 'n' Ray-Bans posing doesn't seem to help Crystal Castles' cause.
They steal from other artists. When Crystal Castles decided to use Trevor Brown's "Black-Eyed Madonna" image for unauthorized mass production on CC merchandise and a seven-inch release, the artist was rightfully irritated. From Brown's own blog, it seems the copyright situation was taken care of, but not in a swift or friendly manner. Similarly, a music-licensing issue between the band and chiptune artist Lo-Bat went down when Glass and Kath apparently snagged and manipulated the Belgium-based musician's track to make "Insecticon." The internet allows easy access to art — but it also allows the ease of appropriate legal consent. If you're not lazy.
Crystal Castles have no ambition. "We have no ambition," declares Ethan Kath, noting that, "There are 3,000 bands that deserve this more than we do." If there is no ambition involved, then why have Crystal Castles' records been released on five different record labels? Contracts don't sign themselves. There is something to be said for modesty, but when a band gets attention for not caring about getting attention, it's irritating. However, it's also proof that sometimes, no matter how hard an artist works, the fate of its success isn't in the drive or even the product: It's all about the demand. Crystal Castles have mastered the craft of simple but effectively questionable art/club music. This supposed anti-ambitiousness really comes through when Kath and Glass faux-perform on British teen drama Skins.
Crystal Castles hate disco, yet they make disco. Call it digital shoegaze. Call it eight-bit electro-punk without the chiptuning. Call it experimental chopped goth. Call it whatever you want — it's still well-crafted dance music. Genre umbrellas are a dangerous territory, and the bottom line is, it doesn't matter what you call it: Crystal Castles make music for ass-shaking. Kath and Glass may align with the punk ethos when it comes to creating music, and for that, credit is due. But one thing is certain: These two jerks make terrifyingly great club bangers. Or disco, for the layman.