Album: Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles (Fiction/Polydor)

A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a synth-punk enigma
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The Independent Culture

If Crystal Castles were any more of an enigma, they'd have the ghost of Alan Turing working overtime.

Alice Glass and Ethan Kath aren't given to grand statements, never reveal much in interviews, rarely say anything on stage, and seldom record an easily understood vocal when an electronically altered riddle is possible. Even the name of Crystal Castles – yes, they're going the Peter Gabriel route with the album titles – doesn't give you much. But whatever it is the Canadian synth duo are trying to tell us, you get the impression it's something very important.

We can tell this not only from the intensity of Glass's live performance but from the sound of their second album, which begins in a squall of sirens and steel-crunching rumbles, like the end of the world in progress. There are, however, frequent interludes of loveliness amid the apocalyptic bedlam: the pretty but diffident "Not in Love", for instance, or the quasi-tropical chillout of "Empathy". On the other hand, "Intimate" features a brain-torturing breakdown that sounds like a 1980s Space Invaders game stuck in a glitch.

There's a distance about what Crystal Castles do, both spiritual and literal: "Violent Dreams" sounds like it's filtering through the walls from the house next door, and "Baptism" sounds like a late-1990s rave banger coming in waves from a distant galaxy, Glass screaming "This is your baptism!" through an electrical storm.

While resolutely futuristic and frequently avant-garde, their material isn't always unprecedented. "Suffocation" recalls the edifices of prime New Order, while "Year of Silence", with its octave bassline and Eastern European guest vocal, could be an outtake from Ladytron's Witching Hour.

At times, their insistence on veiled agendas and coded meanings can frustrate. The big teases. It all ends with "I Am Made of Chalk", a track built from what appear to be tyre screeches and chattering kookaburras heard from underwater.

Clearly, this is one electro album that will never be left playing in hair salons or hotel lobbies, but that's fine. What are they trying to tell us? A guess, hazarded: we are living in end times, but they carry with them a terrible beauty.

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