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Crystal Stilts
Alight Of Night Niall O'Keeffe , February 16th, 2009 05:01

It takes real arrogance to sing the way Brad Hargett sings. And it takes real talent to pull it off as he does. Throughout debut album Alight of Night the Crystal Stilts frontman sounds so weary and medicated he makes Joaquin Phoenix seem like David Letterman. Morose and monastic, his reverberating vocals are evocative sometimes of Ian Curtis, sometimes of Morrissey, but mostly of a bewildered tramp wailing in a cathedral. Somehow, it's hypnotic. The beauty of Hargett is his attitude: unlike most contemporary frontmen, he refuses to plead for approval. His fecklessness compels.

Crystal Stilts conjure a racket that's faintly reminiscent of Flying Saucer Attack and Blue Orchids, and strongly reminiscent of the Jesus & Mary Chain. Like the Mary Chain, this New York-based quintet are a noisy paradox, simultaneously cynical and romantic, passive and aggressive, melodic and atonal, epic and brutal. They're a musical counterpoint to the sun-blasted flamboyance of Miami, the core members' improbable hometown. Stand-up drummer Miss Frankie Rose channels Motown and Spectorbeat, keyboardist Kyle Forester mines Nuggets-era garage-pop, and JB Townsend applies an array of effects to his guitar: it sounds sometimes like smashing glass, sometimes like radio interference. You're reminded that My Bloody Valentine started life as Mary Chain copyists, and that – Glasvegas apart – it's a noble tradition.

Alight of Night opens with a surge of primitive, chaotic psychedelia. Later, the arrival of track four, 'Prismatic Room', brings a detour into widescreen noise-pop, which peaks with album highlight 'Departure', all ringing-bell guitars and Bauhaus-deep vocals. Thereafter a mood of tranquility sets in, and 'Just Like Honey' is repeatedly quoted as the band strive for that familiar brand of stately, portentous melancholia. Derivative as it may be, Alight of Night is a feast for the ears.

One could carp that, when they aren't impossible to make out, Hargett's lyrics are often inane. Yet it seems a trivial concern: Crystal Stilts are more about mood than message, and their moodiness is magnificent. The closing track opens with Hargett lazily intoning, “I'm still astonished by this...” By now, you're right there with him.