From their inception Crystal Antlers has always been a band indebted to a wall of sound that while vast, was always purposeful. They padded this wall with organs, horns and percussion that fed to their psychedelic tendencies with great ease. Through their first two releases their sound was various parts rock with pop hooks and that great DIY, garage style. Now, scaling everything back – from the cast of members (now a trio) to switching labels once again – and approaching music clear-headed, they have developed a brand of sound that is much harder to label with Nothing is Real. The results are an album that is dissimilar from the past, while still keeping an eye on what the future may contain.
On 2011’s Two-Way Mirror, the California-based band cleansed their vision with sparkling gems like “Summer Solstice” and although leadman/bassist Jonny Bell’s vocals still maintained their shrieking level, the band filtered the songs for a more cohesive effort. Nothing is Real is an eleven-song effort that showcases Crystal Antlers with a tighter outfit and in turn, a tighter release. The drums sound much more focused and the group has developed an obvious amount of balance within themselves. Comprised of songs that are all diverse, the album only gets better as it grinds through.
Closer “Prisoner Song” beckons to the days of heady psych but this time shifts into two separate rhythms. And there are still a lot of songs, like “Don’t Think of the Stone,” where the vocals are shrouded by warbling treatments and combined with the swirling guitars and loopy bass: there’s a calling of direct psychedelia. But it’s the left turn they take on “We All Gotta Die” where now, the groove and the melody matters more than the stuffy production. And there’s also “Anywhere but Here,” which takes menacing drums and a relentless guitar before what appears to be a page taken straight out of Dinosaur Jr.’s handbook with a guitar solo that eerily reminds of J Mascis.
It’s clear that the downscale to a newfound trio is working wonders, the opener “Pray” bristles with both energy and anticipation. The foreboding opening and how it delicately resonates a presence is destroyed by the frenetic drums. But lost in all of this cloud of noisiness is the sheer fact that Crystal Antlers is a band rooted in strong fundamentals: driving hooks, propelling rhythms and winning melodies. Nothing is Real continues to question the basis of what’s definite and what isn’t; Crystal Antlers have taken the reigns to what might be something really special – at least we know that with this band, while it’s definitely a work in progress, it’s one trending upwards.