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Sound Advice: III by Crystal Castles

The synth-punk duo's new album is ever so slightly less aggressive than their previous work.

For their latest album, semi-officially titled III, local synth-punk troublemakers Crystal Castles decided to do something unusual, especially for an electronic act: they temporarily relocated to Poland and recorded without the benefit of modern technology. That means no computers, just old-school analog synths. All the tracks were laid down in single takes on a communist-era tape machine.

The resulting record is dark, occasionally moving, and slightly less punch-you-in-the-face aggressive than much of their previous output. (Don’t despair, hardcore Castles’ fans. There’s still plenty of electro-anger here. It’s just interspersed with some other things, and it never quite reaches the physically uncomfortable heights of their earlier work.)

Roughly half the songs on III could be broadly classified as soft and creepy. No one is going to call Castles’ frontwoman Alice Glass a great vocalist, but she has a gift when it comes to using her voice to convey emotions. On “Affection,” her ethereal, haunting vocals mesh well with old-school drum-machine beats and a repetitive synth riff that has an odd club-rap feel to it. (You can listen to “Affection” by clicking on the sample above.) “Wrath of God” is the perfect slow build, starting off gentle and mellow before developing into a giant, pulsing wall of sound. “Pale Flesh” is oddly hypnotic, with its mix of repetitive synths and chopped-up vocals.

The rest of the songs on III are loud, angry, and slightly confusing—in essence, everything we’ve come to love from Crystal Castles. “Insulin” is a panic attack–inducing ball of throbbing distortion, while “Mercenary” is filled with shrieking synthesizers and sub-bass that sounds like a truck engine.

III throws a lot of curves at its listeners, lulling them into a trance then sharply shocking them back to reality. It isn’t what one would call an easily “listenable” album, but it is worth listening to.

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