Crystal Stilts Alight the Night
Published Oct 25, 2008After four years of singles and EPs, Brooklyns Crystal Stilts have finally braved the waters of a full-length and like all good things, its well been worth the wait. Through 11 reverb-drenched tracks, Alight of Night captures all the echo-y lo-fi glory of the bands beginnings and then some, adding a new and improved pop shine to what was already a winning strategy. For proof, just click on one of the several singles tracks reworked for Alight of Night, such as "Shattered Shine and "Crippled Croon. What once bordered on murky is now shining through in brilliant pop colours, clarifying the thumping girl group rhythms, the reverb-drenched twang and, above all, the detached cool of vocalist Brad Hargett. For once, his deadpan croon delivers words you can make out. And yet amongst all the smoothing out the Stilts have kept just enough roughness around the edges, leaving the screechy influence of Flying Nun and the JAMC well intact, and in effect completing a near-perfect picture. If Crystal Stilts werent one of Brooklyns most hotly tipped exports before, theres no doubt they will be now.
So now that your first full-length is in the bag, how do you feel about what you've made?
Bassist Andy Adler: It's kind of interesting. Those songs were recorded about two or three years ago, and back then it was mostly just J.B. [Townsend], the guitar player, and Brad [Hargett], the singer. For live shows, various people would just play and fill in. So they made all these recordings and they mixed it and weren't really happy with it. Eventually, about four or five months ago, we all went back into the studio together as a band and we made totally new mixes of the record from scratch. And I think we're all a lot happier with it now, and the record now hits that aesthetic we were going for. So everyone is pretty relieved that it's finally coming out after it just sat there for two or three years.
Were you aiming to just collect several of your previous singles on a full-length or did you have a more album-album type record in mind?
It's definitely meant to be more of a cohesive record. I guess we're old enough that we remember when people used to listen to full records those crazy times when you actually put out a record and people did more than just download the two songs they liked. But yes, it was definitely meant to have an overall shape to it and structure, not just some thrown-together type thing.
How do you feel about a label like "lo-fi" being used to describe your sound?
It doesn't bother me. Our first record is pretty lo-fi. I guess I came up in an age of that being an aesthetic I was comfortable with and I grew up listening to. A lot of bands I liked were of that mould, but I don't think I have any biases of one form of fidelity being any better than the other. So a label like lo-fi a pretty natural designation for me that doesn't seem pejorative or dismissive or anything like that.
What about labels like "twee" and "indie pop"?
I can see how we're related to indie pop, but I would definitely say the more noisy side, not the twee side. But we're big fans of bands like the Pastels and the Shop Assistants and Flying Nun and the early Creation bands, which definitely weren't twee. And I think there's definitely an aspect of all that sort of stuff in what we do. And the Television Personalities, that's a band we all really love and they're pretty dark and have some loud, minor-chord kind of tunes like we do.
Don't you guys have some kind of connection to the Clean's Hammish Kilgour?
I think he saw one our first shows and he really liked it so he's always been pretty kind to us. I guess the Clean played three shows at the Cake Shop here a while back and they asked us to open up one of them, so we were all pretty thrilled about that. I mean, we're all pretty huge fans of the Clean so that was a big deal to us.
Do you think there any kind of indie pop resurgence happening right now?
I think there might be something. There are a lot of bands around here in New York doing an update on that sort of sound. It's weird to see how things go in waves, but that style probably hasn't been too prevalent for a while. There are always bands playing indie pop, though, it's just a matter of whether people want to pay attention or not. And I think that with all these newer bands, they aren't really picking up on the overly twee aspect of it and doing more of the sort of early Creation Records vibe, which may be more palatable for a people who aren't really hardcore into the whole indie pop/twee thing.
Do you think you are representing the indie pop sounds differently than bands have before?
I would like to think that we're doing something new. And especially with us, indie pop is part of our general influence but we have other things going on so it's not just miming a style. We're all really into Bob Dylan and Love and bands like that, and there's sort of an element of '60s beat in our sound. I don't think we're not a band that's out to sound like our influences but we like their records so they've been an influence on what we musically like. But it's never been the intent to be: "Let's sound like that."
Do ever get worried about being pegged as revivalists?
I'm not too worried. It sort of comes to a point where we make the music we like to make and you can't spend too much time getting wrapped up in things like that. But stuff like that is out of our control at this point and people will write and hear what they will.
What about you guys taking Vivian Girls' drummer, Frankie Rose? Is there going to be any sort of tension over this?
I don't think so. I think everyone is pretty happy about the way things are. I don't want to speak for Frankie, but I don't think there is any ill will or anything. I think it was just that Frankie was in both bands and it was getting impossible to navigate. No, we are still totally down with Vivian Girls.
With this new record, what kind of emotional of reaction are you aiming for?
I don't think it's necessarily that we're trying to strike a specific emotional tenor. I think the album is pretty varied, with slower and faster songs, and catchier and more minor-key tunes. In some ways it's not supposed to be one simple emotional response, if that makes any sense. It's a bit in-depth and complex in some regard. Granted, that's for other people to say.
What do you hope listeners take away from this record?
This will come off as kind of vague, but I don't know if there is a specific thing I want them to come away with. However, I do hope people have a personal response to it, where it affects them in some regard. For me, different records always mean different things and affect me in totally different ways. But in the records that I've loved and was able to go back to years later, there's always some key element that keeps them meaningful and inspiring and pleasurable. So I just hope our record has that quality for some other people. (Slumberland)