Label: Recreation Ltd.
Two-Way Mirror is that particular album of 2011 that will confoundedly slip by the rays of limelight; it may receive die-hard support and positive word-of-mouth that, by the end of the cycle, doesn’t quite articulate itself into a deserving amount of ears. Despite touring with the Cold War Kids, it happened with Crystal Antlers’ 2009 debut LP, Tentacles. But despite this and Touch and Go’s label drop, they sally forth with unadulterated aplomb.
Two-Way Mirror’s sound is face-lifted verbatim from the Long Beach quintet’s debut, both of which might be considered many things. There are certainly shards of classic psychedelic rock, garage rock and prog rock, but it’s interesting how debatable these qualities can become. The most important, albeit overlooked consideration: they recall the gloomy, guitar-based sludge of grunge, and with just as much comfort and familiarity. For an endless time it seemed comparing a band to Nirvana was not only an insult but also a trite sin. But similarly, Crystal Antlers are refreshingly earnest just like the Grunge Gods’ depressing manner. Like Cobain and his contemporaries, they make angst and misery so damn compelling, and accomplish it without digging into excessive power chord sludge and pseudo-depression of New Millennium Cobain clones like Staind.
Instead, they recall the early, punky years of alternative rock’s pivotal years, 75 percent of the comparison merely derived from the music’s unabashed penchant for melodrama (and a novel quality of indecipherable and lyrics sheet-necessary vocals). Each instrument contributes its own paroxysm and ferocity, all produced with a murky, analog glaze (penultimate track “Sun-Bleached” is most aptly titled) owning up to their aesthetic garage rock shell. For this, it’s difficult to recognize each Two-Way Mirror offering individually, probably the best complement the album could receive. “Séance,” “Way Out,” “Jules’ Story” – who cares which song is which? They’re all important contributions to the album’s experience. Crystal Antlers have complete control over their abrasive psych-punk infusion even on gentler tracks like “Summer Solstice,” which is splashed in twangy, reverbed guitar licks and an equally melodic bassline. Track after track, Jonny Bell’s snarly rasp becomes a cornerstone ornament to the minor chords; percussion team Kevin Stuart and Damian Edwards color in the energy with busy beats and fills; and guitarist Andrew King sounds like he’s having more fun experimenting with distorted guitar feedback more than Hendrix ever did. It’s these subtle and carefully steered qualities that make the Antlers’ more consistent than their peers.
Ironically, “Dog Days” shows us that the band can expertly execute polished guitar pop, ending Two-Way Mirror with a lighter attack and unexpectedly crisper production value. Perhaps the band is foreshadowing what’s to come, or perhaps that’s just way Jack Endino’s mix sounded best. The point is, it works with the bouncy clean-tone chord and the band knows how to adjust and adapt to their music’s needs without compromising their loyalty to it.
by Jory Spadea
Key Tracks: Summer Solstice