Crystal Antlers

Nothing Is Real

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The Crystal Antlers' self-titled debut for L.A.'s Innovative Leisure was recorded at bassist/vocalist Jonny Bell's home studio. This set marks not only an extension of the band's garagey neo-speech roots, but an expansion into new sonic terrains using synths and drum machines, though they never dominate the basic guitar/bass/drums/organ attack; they supplement it as added noise and texture. These 11 songs reveal that this trio has become not only comfortable in the recording studio, but with one another as musicians; they are willing to push themselves into a new red zone. On opener "Pray," one can hear trace elements of melody from the Cure and the Psychedelic Furs; but before rolling your eyes, know the attack is explosive, frantic, played at a pace near howling in its urgency. First single "Rattlesnake" commences with a slow, plodding bassline and a cheesy Farfisa. Bell's voice recalls Paul Westerberg's confessional confusion just before guitars and drums erupt à la Hüsker Dü to push him into committing. The nightmarish "Licorice Pizza" updates the sound of L.A. punk circa the late '70s. "Persephone" and its immediate successor, "Anywhere But Here," are drenched in layers of feedback, guitar sting, and delirious, ricocheting melodies. "Better Things" careens like a live wire against hardcore punk, psych, and garage rock. While "Don’t Think of the Stone" is a fine, drifting ballad, it does feel more like a B-side than an album cut. It's an outlier. Closer "Prisoner Song" is also slow, but its walls of barely contained guitar feedback and distortion lay down the wallop against a blissy synth backdrop, crunchy yet majestic drums, and a humming bassline. They all serve Bell's emotionally wracked vocal as he strains to get above the din. All things tolled, Nothing Is Real evidences everything right about indie rock. Though it blisters with intensity, it boasts well-written songs illustrated by canny production, played with confident recklessness and vulnerable honesty. (And it's got a great cover by no less than C.R. Stcyk III to boot.)

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