Dull Crystal

The_crystal_method_2014

The Crystal Method is one of those bands whose music you’ve probably heard many times, but didn’t know it was them.  As the pioneers of the electronica genre, they have made appearances on over 50 video game, TV, and movie soundtracks over the years (even writing the entire film score for the movie London in 2005).  So needless to say, they’ve had a hell of a career.  Formed in 1993 by Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland, Crystal Method released four traditional studio albums (excluding the film score and remix/mash-up albums) before hitting the airwaves again with their eponymous fifth album.  Originally set for a 2013 release, it dropped just after the new year due to Kirkland needing surgery to remove a cyst on his brain, from which he recovered fully.

This album, to me, is a great example of how popular trends can affect a long-established artist.  For most of the duo’s career, electronica was an “underground” sort of music, listened to only by enthusiasts or people who like to explore new genres.  Then, around 2007 or so, electronica started to penetrate mainstream music.  The first example of this I remember hearing was Kanye West’s sampling of Daft Punk’s tune “Harder, Better, Faster, Stonger” in his single “Stronger.”  The big, industrial, synthesized beats of electronica then started to show up all over pop and rap music, creating an interesting new sound.

This presented an interesting dilemma for The Crystal Method.  Do they stick to the formula that made them great on this record, or do they try to embrace new trends?  From what I can hear, it seems that they chose the latter approach.  Unfortunately, I think it dulls the quality of their music.  This record feels like a remix album more often than not, with weird and dissonant sounds that grate on the ears.  Nowhere is this more evident than on “Storm the Castle,” and “Dosimeter,” which often sounds like what results when my computer freezes while a song is playing on it.  The album also continues a trend that started with Crystal Method’s 2009 album Divided by Night: recruiting vocalists to give their sound more of a mainstream tinge.  While it was well-executed on that album, it mostly falls flat here.  The aforementioned weird effects are added to many of the vocal tracks, interfering with the vocal parts and dampening the listening experience.  For instance, on “Over It,” I felt like the song would’ve been ten times better if Ken & Scott just stepped back and let Dia Frampton sing already.

Incidentally, they do just that on “Difference,” and what results is one of the best-executed songs on the album.  The beat complements Franky Perez’s vocals almost perfectly, propelling the song forward and capturing a lot of their classic sound.  “Grace,” with LeAnn Rimes on vocals, is almost as well done, but still features several shrill squeal sounds that interfere some with her vocals.

Other interesting moments on the album include “110 to the 101,” in which what appears to be audio from phone calls plays at the beginning and end of the song, which made me wonder where they drew inspiration for the song from.  “Metro” is also interesting; the band takes a seemingly insignificant sound (the recorded announcements in a metro station), and makes a song out of it.

In sum, I think the band tried a little too hard, and the result is a record that is aggressively average.  It’s not especially bad, but is not particularly noteworthy either.  It has its highlights and lowlights, but few songs caught and held my attention for an extended period of time.  I think I have similar advice for the Crystal Method that I did for Lady Gaga back in February.  If they can tone down on the dissonance in their next album, I think it will be much more successful than this one.  Because it has more and better high points than Gaga’s album, I’m going to upgrade this one to a borrow it rating.  If you’re not familiar with Crystal Method, I would not recommend this album as an introduction.  Their 2004 record Legion of Boom is probably better.  Here are my track picks:

“Difference” (ft. Franky Perez)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69Cl0faB5hw

“Grace” (ft. LeAnn Rimes)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_zrhGGRaF8

“Jupiter Shift”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncZONwkRQN8

 

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