Crystal Antlers, Luminaire, London
Reviewed by Chris Mugan
Wednesday 28 January 2009
Just as southern US bands come with their own swampy sound, as if dredged up from their deltas and everglades, so the western states' desert rock is parched and frazzled. You hear it nowhere better than in the voice of Crystal Antlers' Jonny Bell.
His five-strong group of cosmic soulsters once worked as chimney sweeps and are now moving towards the light. They come from an exalted line of Californian noise-rock freaks, most notably Sub Pop's Comets on Fire, though on their 2008 debut eponymous EP, the Antlers already hinted at a more expansive sound. Still, they have a struggle to make a name for themselves, given that they share some of it with others.
Antlers arrive in the wake of Crystal Castles, whose singer, Alice Glass, topped last year's NME Cool List; to rub it in, a poster at Crystal Antlers' first European gig advertises Crystal Stilts next month. At least in the flesh this hairy Long Beach bunch stand out: the bear-like Bell models himself on Goodies-era Bill Oddie, while guitarist Andrew King takes after neatly moustached David Hemmings in Barbarella. Victor Rodriguez smoulders over his organ in the sort of vest a Hispanic hoodlum might wear, while Damian "Sexual Chocolate" Edwards completes the package. He begins as the group's Bez, dancing to Kevin Stewart's convoluted drum patterns, though gradually makes full use of his percussion set to emphasise the groove running through the band's often baroque constructions.
Rodriguez's doom-laden groans entwine with King's more tangled skeins, either with one emerging to gain supremacy, or coming together to create an unstoppable juggernaut. Antlers sound best when Bell tethers the group with his meaty, yet supple basslines, as on "Until the Sun Dies (Part Two)".
"Andrew" sees Antlers rehash Sixties British blues rock as Bell growls "Don't let me down, I know that I'm often wrong", as if Chicken Shack had never happened, at least until Rodriquez muscles in with his own descending chords and the feel is more MC5 meets The Nice. It provides respite from the group's visions of dying suns and torn skies, a worthy environmental message couched in the sort of mysticism that can become trying if attempted po-faced. Thankfully, Edwards' constant grin undermines such seriousness: Crystal Antlers are a good-time band that soundtrack cataclysm.
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