In the world of underground music, is it possible to combine campy melodies with distorted guitars and still produce a successful album?
The Crystal Stilts clearly think so.
In their latest album, In Love with Oblivion, the Brooklyn-based band capitalizes on the peculiar genre of “noise pop,” a mixture of pop-like tunes and lyrics with more alternative-sounding instruments and effects like distortion, feedback and atonal vocals.
In the process, the Crystal Stilts have created an interesting, albeit lackluster, mash-up of catchy guitar solos and disappointing vocals that ultimately falls short.
In Love with Oblivion starts strong but the tracks dissolve into bland and forgotten melodies.
“Through the Floor” is one of the best tracks on the album and is worthy of its status as the album’s first single. The song begins with a light-hearted mixture of distorted guitar riffs and pop-inspired melodies. It is the shortest track, and one of only a few to include a harmony of vocals, lending it a ‘60s feel.
But, like every other song on the album, “Through the Floor” makes it frustratingly difficult to comprehend any of the lyrics.
Although the noise pop genre is infamous for using whispery, echoed vocals, the Crystal Stilts make no attempt to experiment with their lyrics.
Most of the album’s tunes are so blatantly popish you almost feel cheated because they are difficult to sing along to.
Lead singer Brad Hargett offers the most minimal range possible for a vocalist: His monotone voice is characteristic of noise pop music, but it shouldn’t be so utterly deadpan and incomprehensible that his presence serves no purpose.
In the end, it only distracts from the flamboyantly catchy guitar solos.
In every song, Hargett’s voice drowns helplessly in the background noise. Often, he winds up sounding completely disengaged from the instruments altogether.
To be fair, Hargett’s vocals aren’t always superfluous. In “Flying into the Sun,” Hargett’s voice lends raw meaning to the bittersweet feeling of the lyrics.
The song is the album’s most pop-inspired track, with more upbeat instrumentals and lovey-dovey lyrics than the others.
But the contrast of Hargett’s depressingly atonal voice with the cheerful melody makes for a song that is both sweet and sorrowful.
Another gem is “Shake the Shackles,” which boasts a catchy opening that captures you almost instantly. Unlike in most of the songs, Hargett’s voice does not detract from the melody.
The track also does not use distortion as much as other songs on the album, making it cleaner and more euphonious.
About halfway through the album, however, the Crystal Stilts appear to have lost interest in trying to create songs different from one another.
None of the last four tracks are the least bit memorable, especially when compared to the much stronger and more versatile first half of the album.
Ultimately, In Love with Oblivion makes a decent effort at breaking out of the norm.
There are both high and low points, leaving an array of unique but generally forgettable songs.
But through those peaks, it’s clear that the Crystal Stilts have the capacity for success.
The band just needs to figure out a way to produce an album in which more tracks hit the bullseye.