Between bands like Deerhunter, No Age, Liars, Animal Collective, Deerhoof, and Comets On Fire, it's been a pretty diverse and excellent decade for noise rock/pop. And I'm not even that much of an expert to know some of the newer and/or more underground bands that have emerged in the past few years who fit into that group, too. But I think that Crystal Antlers are the first band who take a direct influence from that group while also still maintaining their own sound and inspiring a listener to want to follow their career. And all they've got to their name so far beyond live shows is an EP and a MySpace page.
Listening to this untitled EP for the first time, I very quickly thought they were some kind of Comets On Fire rip off. Specifically Field Recordings From The Sun and earlier era Comets On Fire, when they hadn't quite let their classic rock influences bleed through: noisy, wandering guitars; swirling noise and distortion all over the place; rock solid but loose and rocking drums and bass; an unhinged singer who either shouts or screams everything. But on subsequent listens, this EP starts to take on its own identity and character. Crystal Antlers aren't as jammy as Comets On Fire, for starters. And while they maintain a stupefying level of noise and distortion they sometimes let in moments of psychedelic relief, always showing a keen ability for knowing when to ease up the attack and when to press it home. I don't know how else to explain it, but this music is the sort of stuff you think you'll only want to listen to a couple times before filing it away but then quickly becomes a daily staple. It goes from headache inducer to fist pumper. It helps that, like the aforementioned Comets On Fire, they never forget proper songwriting and rocking amidst all the chaos.
The first two tracks of this EP burn by without a look back until we get to the magnificent 'A Thousand Eyes', which is the Rosetta's Stone to getting this band and why they're good. It starts with some spacey guitar noise and a minimalist melody with tinkling percussion before the full throttle assault hits again, underpinned by an electric organ. Then there's that great moment where the chorus comes out of nowhere and the singer's voice strains to hit the high notes. A brief pause and we're off again, repeating the cycle before we slow things down at the 2:00 mark and let the noise quiet a bit. A psychedelic rock interlude ensues, complete with organ and guitar overlapping each other while the bass and drums pound out a slow motion wallop. Then some "hoo hoo hoo" wordless vocals sweeten the deal a bit, the mix growing denser until we break right back into the chorus. This song reveals all the elements at work in the band's sound: noise, psychedelia, pop songwriting, and flattening rock. On a similar note, the EP closing and appropriately titled 'Parting Song For The Torn Sky' is seven minutes of the best stuff Comets On Fire never recorded, the paint peeling howls enough to stop hearts and awaken the dead. The whole EP package brings to mind old stand-by adjectives like 'incendiary', 'pulverising', and 'powerful' while also demonstrating that sometimes it's not just hyperbole when these terms are used about music.
It's tempting to play a guessing game for how Crystal Antlers's debut album will sound--less noise, more noise, more pop, less pop, more psychedelic, less psychedelic??--but I suppose it's enough for now to enjoy this 6 song sampler platter and appreciate how the band has managed to combine those elements already. This may not be the kind of "out of the blue, fully formed, shot across the bow" that TV On The Radio's debut EP was, but it's still damn good.