Album Reviews: Crystal Castles, The Birthday Massacre, Depeche Mode, David Bowie

Here’s something I don’t usually do. I’m going to review some of the interesting albums that came out this year and what I think of them, like anyone here cares. But at any rate, here you are.

Crystal Castles: III
Back in 10th grade, I went through a short-lived nihilist phase. I’m not sure if it was inspired by The Big Lebowski and my desire to pass out in a swimming pool, carry swords and marmots around, and put out electronic records, but it looks like it inspired Canadian Duo Crystal Castles to do the latter. The album’s concept can be best described as nihilistic. The band has always been about creating hard-to-listen, lo-fi punktronica, but they’ve slowly been moving away from their roots and into the realm of throwaway dance music. Which, admittedly, is something that nihilists would do.

Let me just be frank… this album sucks. It starts off well enough with Plague, which is a pretty decent song, but then it drops off entirely from there. From here on it’s mostly generic club music, with an annoying volume ducking effect on nearly every track that will make you think your speakers are busted. It was an incredibly stupid decision for them to make, and especially makes me angry that a band that used to be good at being lo-fi would stoop to insane levels of over-production. With the post-production effects removed, the album might even be decent. Insulin is a more experimental song that will remind you of their first album, but it only lasts a minute or so, and then it gets back to more dance floor junk. Then they wind down the usual way with Child I Will Hurt You, with a song that isn’t too bad, but isn’t enough to save the album.
Score: 1/5

The Birthday Massacre: Hide and Seek
Also hailing from Canada, the land of hit-or-miss artists, comes synth-rock band The Birthday Massacre’s new album. I’ve been a huge fan of TBM since 2006, so I’ll try to keep this review as unbiased as possible.
This album is a significant departure from their usual style, but not by much. The basic formula is still there… mostly cinematic 1980s style progression mixed with occasional angry industrial rock tracks. The album starts with Leaving Tonight, which is a beautiful song that I instantly fell in love with; it really hits you over the head with what this band is about: haunting vocals, keytar solos, magic synthesizers, and dark subject matter. Next, the angry track this time is Down, which is by far the most angry song they’ve ever made, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the best. After that, it’s hit or miss, which kinda breaks my heart to admit. However, the middle tracks Alibis and One Promise start to pick things up. From there, things start winding down again, but perhaps not as prematurely. Overall, it’s still a good album, but the more computerized, dancy feel they’ve given this album seems like it’s holding itself back from being a lot better. I’m hoping I can learn to appreciate some of these songs more as time passes, and I hope they can get a different producer than Kevvy Mental… I’m not really sure he “gets” what they’re supposed to be about.
Score: 3.5/5

Depeche Mode: Delta Machine
I’ve been a Depeche Mode fan for the longest time, even though every album they’ve ever put out is the same story… a couple of amazing songs, and then the rest is filler. This is no different.
It starts off pretty amazing. The first three tracks: Welcome to my World, Angel, and Heaven are all spectacular… and then I forget the rest. But even for those first songs, it’s at least worth a listen; at least they make it easy to skip over the rest.
Score: 2.5/5

David Bowie: The Next Day
Bowie’s first album in 10 years is great. I’ve never been a huge Bowie fan, but I definitely have a respect for him. That said, I’m happy with the album but it’s still not really my thing. “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” gets a respectable place on my car MP3 player, until I get bored of it. But hey, that’s something.
Score: 3/5

Skinny Puppy: Weapon
Skinny Puppy (Canadian band again), is another one of those bands that have been around forever but isn’t my favorite band, either. This album was a departure from their ohGr-esque rapping and back to their 80s industrial roots, a genre they played a huge part in inventing. Now, I like ohGr, and I loved their last album (which oddly enough sounded more like a Skinny Puppy album), and this album is definitely interesting. Wornin’ is definitely my style, but from there it gets incredibly repetitive, but their music has traditionally been that way. I like it for what it is, a sort-of throwback with modern production (they even have a great cover of their old song, Solvent), but it ain’t The Process either. And I don’t care what you say, that was the best album they ever did, and one of my favorite albums of all time.
Score: 3/5

Front Line Assembly: Echogenetic
Another band from Canada, eh? FLA is always a fascinating band. Their sound is always evolving, and always trying modern electronic techniques to see what sticks. Their 80s music sounded like what you think it would. In the 90s it was guitar-driven heavy metal. In the aughts it was IDM and drum n’ bass. And now… well… dubstep.
Now I’ve dropped that (bass-filled) bombshell, it’s still respectable industrial. I mean, if you want to get down to it, them and other bands like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher basically invented most of what dubstep is, a decade before it got labeled that way. So what you end up getting is a nice mix of what makes FLA cool, plus a little of what’s cool about dubstep (you know, the glitchiness and bass-dropping) without the Skrillexy high-pitched moans, rapping, and the screaming demand to call 911 at any given time. So it’s not as bad as you think, but I still like Artificial Soldier better.
Score: 3/5

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