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Crystal Antlers
Tentacles Mark Eglinton , April 29th, 2009 08:36

With the current surfeit of 'Crystal' bands knocking around, it's eminently possible that you've heard bits and pieces about the Antlers but have never given them much real thought. A music press keen for a story has written up the weird, hippy-sounding side-show that accompanies them — the chimney-sweeping day jobs, the funky tour bus and all the rest — but the bottom line ultimately has to be the music. (It turns out, however, that tales of brush-wielding aren't a cheap publicity stunt; they're a genuine, money-making necessity.)

Crystal Antlers have one pigeon's nest blockage hampering their way to free-draft rockin' success. Despite being produced on a tiny budget (albeit with help from Ikey Owens of Mars Volta fame), last year's eponymous EP nonchalantly cocked a dog's rear leg over any competition. So while Tentacles is good — and on more than a few occasions, very good — it simply doesn't have the bewilderingly exciting immediacy of its half-formed predecessor.

Let's be honest right away, and say that lead track 'Painless Sleep' is not in any way the best advertisement for this record. In fact, the scary organ skirl is quite likely to drive you to drink — imagine the noise a particularly sinister ice-cream van might make as it rolls down your street, manned by devious, gnome-like sex-pests selling anything but the usual 99s. Fortunately, it gets better, and fast. 'Time Erased' is reminiscent of the EP's material with its urgent, snappy verse decelerating into an actually quite uplifting chorus, and Jonny Bell's already distorted tones morphing into a full-bore howl as things eventually wind down. You're left to mull over exit sounds, someone dicking around with a box of broken Christmas tree decorations.

Such unexpected detail contributes to an overall sound best described as 'busy' — no surprise, given the range of instrumentation in use and Mr Bell's penchant for capturing random moments of sound with his beat-box. But peel away some of the exterior sonic layers and you'll be richly rewarded with moments of touching soul, not exactly an influence you'd expect from a band whose self-confessed inspiration is punk.

The title track takes off at a bass-led and frantic pace, strangled guitars trading blows with Bell's suitably manic wailings. Penultimate number 'Swollen Sky' is much more laid back; a hidden late gem with a chilled-out sweep ending in a wail of feedback. So while many of the songs work best at volume-levels that guarantee imminent eviction, they fare equally well late at night as quiet company. There is considerably more at play here than eclectic noise alone.