Next week brings a lot of things to look forward to: the official start of baseball season, the first 2009 face-to-face meeting of all three Dicks, an awesome show that we will be presenting at Beachland Tavern on Thursday (stay tuned for details coming later today), and a slew of great new releases slated for Tuesday. One of those releases that we are particularly fond of here at Citizen Dick HQ is the debut LP from the Long Beach sextet Crystal Antlers. The album, called Tentacles, has been available as a digital download exclusively through iTunes for a few weeks now, but physical copies are slated to hit stores this coming Tuesday. While Tentacles marks the beginning of an era for Crystal Antlers, as many of you know it also marks the end of an era for their label, the illustrious Chicago-based Touch and Go Records, at least for the foreseeable future. For a label that has brought us some of the greatest indie bands of the last decade, Crystal Antlers’ Tentacles serves as a fitting end to a chapter and has us looking forward to what the future may hold for Touch and Go.
Attempting to describe the sound of the album could very easily turn out to be an exercise in futility, but for the sake of this review I will give it a try. Above all else Tentacles is a rock record, with deeply rooted influences of garage and psychedelic rock. While there is a lot going on in any given song, the intense organ work and wailing guitars take center stage, often seeming to operate in opposition to each other and fighting for dominance. Meanwhile, it almost sounds as though singer Jonny Bell’s vocals are being screamed from a broom closet in the recording studio, attempting with urgency to keep up with the madness of the battling instruments outside. The result is an incredibly full, almost epic aural experience ripe with twisting melodies and spastic chaos. Nearly every track, at some point, seems to be teetering on the verge of an all-out breakdown just before reigning it back in and pulling everything together. This is where Crystal Antlers set themselves apart from the droves of bands that make a living out of beating their instruments into submission.
While there is an array of arrangements and styles featured throughout Tentacles, the album’s shining stars are the more aggressive tracks. Perhaps the best examples of these are “The Erased,” featuring intense screaming vocals, the driving percussion of “Dust,” and the epic and raging title track. All three of these numbers exemplify the madness that makes Tentacles such an enthralling album, but perhaps the most raging track of all is the absolute roller coaster of sound that is “Your Spears,” with its thundering organs working in swift succession with the drums as both are backed by wild guitars and straining vocals. Balancing out these maddening rockers are a handful of instrumental tracks and a few songs that, in the context of the album at least, could almost be considered ballads. Swirling opener “Painless Sleep” and the ringing “Vapor Trails” are both hypnotic instrumental interludes, while “Foot of the Mountain” is a sparse 30-second horn solo steeped in warmth and intimacy, providing a tender moment amidst the insanity.
Among the more ballad-like tracks are the ominous and brooding “Glacier,” the restrained and almost delicate “Swollen Sky,” and closer “Several Tongues,” which is a seven minute lo-fi, feedback-laden jam featuring minimal vocals and a squelching horn spasm midway through. But perhaps the most touching and memorable of the album’s slower moments is the retro charmer “Andrew,” oozing emotion through weeping guitars vocals that are almost desperate and pleading with the listener. While Crystal Antlers are able to excel with both balls-out rockers and down tempo burners, some of the more exciting moments on Tentacles come when they switch tempo mid-song. Given their spontaneous and spastic nature, tracks like “Until the Sun Dies (Part One)” and “Memorized” are almost as unpredictable on the tenth listen as they are on the first; both beginning as slow burners before giving way to shredding guitar howls and thumping organ madness (I particularly urge you to indulge yourself in the last minute of “Memorized”, where weeping horn gives way to unbridled guitar-squealing chaos).
If wailing guitars, thunderous organs, wild percussion, and unrestrained vocals are things that interest you (and I’m guessing they are); Crystal Antlers is a band you should be listening to. We like all of these things and we like Tentacles. We think you will like it, too.