No matter how much Crystal Castles insist they're named after She-Ra's fortress and not the 1983 arcade favorite, thanks to the Atari sound chips in their keyboards, their music evokes vintage video game soundtracks -- albeit ones that have been folded, spindled, and mutilated almost past recognition. On their self-titled debut, Crystal Castles (aka Ethan Kath and Alice Glass) hurl eight-bit bleeps, bloops, and noise as relentlessly as Space Invaders marching down a screen, turning these sounds into sometimes chaotic, sometimes moody synth pop with a jagged edge. Though their low-res synths can't help but sound nostalgic (and song titles like "Air War" and "Reckless" sound like forgotten games), Crystal Castles are fresher, more complex, and much less gimmicky than might be expected, especially for those familiar with only the band's singles. Granted, those singles are still some of Crystal Castles' definitive tracks: the darkly, violently catchy "Alice Practice" pits Glass' serrated but melodic shout-singing against rippling, strafing, and strobing synth onslaughts, and "Crimewave" gives that sound a brooding groove. However, Crystal Castles go wider and deeper on the rest of the album, teetering between order and chaos, noise and melody, and energy and atmosphere in ways that are unpredictable but consistently interesting. Glass is a chameleon, terrifying on one track and kittenish on another. She's a black-eyed, short-circuiting android on "Xxzxcuzx Me," singing of "robotic love" as her voice degrades into pixels almost as soon as she opens her mouth, and a spaced-out valley girl bopping to "Good Time"'s deceptively cheery pulse. Indeed, a remarkable amount of melancholy haunts Crystal Castles, from the eerie keening on the Knife-like opening track, "Untrust Us," to the danceable gloom of "Vanished" and the wistful, almost serene "Magic Spells" -- all of which throw freakouts like the claustrophobic electro bump 'n' grind "Love and Caring" into even brasher contrast. By the time Crystal Castles wind down with "Tell Me What to Swallow"'s ethereal cooing and guitars, it's clear that Kath and Glass are already looking for more ways to expand on this familiar-sounding, edgy, innocent, menacing, bold, nuanced, and altogether striking debut.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares