Crystal Stilts - Nature Noir (4 stars)

Cleaner production lets these outsidery cousins of jangly indie-pop sparkle

Crystal Stilts - Nature Noir

(Sacred Bones Records)

The dark, mysterious, outsidery cousins of jangly indie-pop, Crystal Stilts seem to thrive on awkwardness. Their live shows have come on from the shambolic early days circa 2009’s Alight of Night when now-solo-artist Frankie Rose moonlighted unconvincingly as drummer, but they still retain a klutzy charm. Guitarist JB Townsend will often play with his back to the audience. String-bean, invariably black-shades-sporting vocalist Brad Hargett – his reverb-doused baritone voice buried so low in the mix he could be singing from beneath a pile of coats – may be the most reluctant frontman in music.

Which would all seem unforgivably fainthearted and pretentious, were near every lick of music these Brooklynites make not so strikingly rich in quality and identity. Following 2011’s deliriously good In Love with Oblivion – ‘Through the Floor’ was one of the best songs of that year – Nature Noir continues to grow this band’s murky appeal, a mixture of narcotic reverie and black-eyed meanness that belies the shy sensitivity of the five men making it.

The Doors may not be the most fashionable of influences, but Crystal Stilts threaten to change that. Sprinting into view spraying bursts of pinched blues-rock guitar, Hargett mumbling about getting ‘back to the garden’ where ‘original sin is pardoned’, the tightly-wound ‘Future Folklore’ is the kind of song Jim Morrison and Lou Reed might have penned together were they not mortal enemies. After a jittery first half, ‘Darken the Door’ cuts to a waltz-time psychedelic freak-out led spinning into the K-hole with a Ray Manzarek-esque flourish by Kyle Forester’s fairground-ride organ.

Scraping away the fuzzy racket which smothered so much of their early material pays dividends for Crystal Stilts: cleaner production lets ‘Sticks and Stones’ and orchestra-embellished closer ‘Phases Forever’ both sparkle. Likewise the title track which, over skeletal guitar-lines, finds Hargett characterising mother nature as the reluctant ‘aggressor’ in a desperate fight to the death with humanity. It’s an unusually conscious, lucid and above all audible observation which makes you wonder why he doesn’t sing out more.

Crystal Stilts "Star Crawl" (Official Music Video)

Crystal Stilts "Future Folklore" (OFFICIAL AUDIO)

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