Over a series of spooky, reverb-soaked albums and EPs, Brooklyn's Crystal Stilts have staked out a place as perhaps the foremost purveyors of dark psychedelic pop their generation has to offer. Their 2011 album, In Love with Oblivion, saw the band perfecting their claustrophobic sound to the point where one had to wonder whether they would just keep repeating themselves until the law of diminishing returns sunk them, or if maybe their next album would do some radical revamping. The EP that followed gave a few clues with the stark, country-tinged cover of the Sanford Clark death ballad “Still as the Night,” but that did little to prepare the band's fans for the shocking amount of refurb the group did on their debut album for Sacred Bones, Nature Noir. While some of the vital parts of the band's sound are basically unaltered -- most notably Brad Hargett's almost disembodied croon -- and their ability to conjure up a mood so heavy that it's hard to shake, the parts surrounding the core are almost all new. Most striking is the lack of reverb on songs like the driving rocker "Future Folklore" or the jangling ballad "Stick & Stones." Hargett may still be stuck in the echo chamber, but the music on Nature Noir is simply recorded and very direct, with much more attention paid to detail in the arrangements and a wide variety of sounds employed. A couple songs are built around acoustic guitars, there are sawing violins added to a few, and most everywhere you look there's something happening sonically that's not happened on a Crystal Stilts record before. In the course of their development as artists, most bands make the choice to expand their sound. Some do it in ways that basically ruin them and make you wish they had just kept making the same record over and over. Crystal Stilts are in the small minority of bands whose expansion actually makes sense and feels like an organic outgrowth of what they had been doing before. Their choices all fit with their carefully built neo-psych aesthetic, and they all work to make the band sound more interesting and the record more impacting on first listen. Plus the songs are as strong, if not stronger, than any they have written. Nature Noir proves that Crystal Stilts aren't a one-trick band and it gives anyone who's been a fan up to this point an extremely compelling reason to follow them as they grow.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra