On their third full-length album, Toronto-based duo Crystal Castles attempt to conjure the dark moods of 1980s synth-dance stalwarts such as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Depeche Mode within the confines of lo-fi home recording, yielding a strange and sometimes compelling amalgam of do-it-yourself aesthetics and populist appeal. It’s a high-wire approach that can bring large dividends or end up feeling dead on arrival; there are few things more lamentable in music than an abortive dance track that never compels one to move his body.
In that regard, “(III)” is roughly half good. Tracks such as the opener “Plague” and the overly busy “Kerosene” fail to catch fire, hampered by producer Ethan Kath’s convoluted use of keyboards and unpersuasive melodies. Singer Alice Glass’s vocals are always heavily affected and frequently charmless, her breathless theatricality failing to convey the reasons behind the apparent tortured urgency of the band’s largely inscrutable lyrics.
Not until the album’s sixth track, the forceful and infectious adrenaline injection “Sad Eyes,” does “(III)” arrive at a credible groove, one worthy of primogenitors New Order and Erasure. Things improve on the second half — the brief but arresting “Insulin” is a palate-cleansing bit of experimentation, and “Transgender” hops along agreeably with a skittering beat.
It’s still not enough to call the album a success. Crystal Castles may yet realize the extent of their very real promise, but for the time being, they remain far more of a hopeful curiosity than a remarkable band.
“Sad Eyes,” “Transgender”