Album Review Crystal Fighters - Star Of Love3 Stars
There are a few too many tracks where they flame, but fail to blow-up.
Segueing traditional genres of European roots music into dance of various shades is not particularly a new idea. The likes of German-based DJ Shantel have been enjoying a degree of success, with their blend of Balkan-meets-beats making good in recent years. Whether this reflects an opening up of our ears to new tastes, in conjunction with the extension of Europe’s borders? Well, that’s hugely debateable. What we do know, however, is that Crystal Fighters claim to be one of the only groups eyeing the charts whilst cradling a tabor and txistu, that could well be their USP.
Their first two releases weren’t quite the introduction to the unknown as you might have expected from that brag. Destined to be screamed from the top of Kensal Rise house parties by arrogant youth, sweaty and wearing at least one item of neon, ‘I Love London’ could be the only song in existence to tout the causes of both “Willesden” (near the aforementioned Kensal Rise) and “Watford Junction”. In that respect, the single’s release on the uber-trend Kitsune label, following that of ‘Xtatic Truth’, makes complete sense. The arbitrary hyper-house beats and shouty tagline moment for both these hits made them ideal fad fodder.
But onto the third single, they seemed to hit their stride and made a genuinely likeable, danceable and all-round interesting track. ‘In The Summer’ displays cosy naivety, a complete sunshine tune: “cos it’s like a dream, show me something bad, show me something wrong in the summer”. Crystal Fighters’ niche of instrumental authenticity develops far more interesting sounds with the tabor and accented vocals than where their tracks go disco or slot into the Kitsune credentials.
Linguistically CF are playful, very often redefining the original sentence throughout the course of a song, mixing up the syntax, simply but effectively – it moves them into a more realistic live arena than sampled vocal sounds. Yet this has mixed fortunes for them. ‘At Home’ has irrepressible mock handclap percussion, like those of the flamenco, but lyrically it’s a bit wet, reliant on the female dual vocals that feel overly polished when compared to their shouty-er incarnations and male counterparts. Melodically too, ‘At Home’ appeals more to Abba’s ‘I Have A Dream’ in the ensemble vocals and classic chord changes, than the punchy dance of, say, Balkan Beat Box, who also have dibs on authentic instrumentation.
Whereas ‘I Do This Everyday’ is Deftones meets Uffie; a severe turn for electric guitars to take the lead and provide an unrelenting chug for Laure and Mimi to holler over. Dominated by elongated synth tones and a fairly trad-sounding Spanish guitar, ‘Champion Sound’ is very much the kind of hit aimed to strike the late night ambient clubs as opposed to the more aggressive tracks on Star of Love (namely those Kitsune singles). With a similar slip slide of picked guitar, they do well with ‘Plage’ to stop it from becoming a bit of a Wyclef rip off – melodically it could so easily be ‘Perfect Gentleman’ – by reducing the last minute of the song to a break down, punchline cymbal and “come over here with your heart”, rebuilding from Sebastian’s vocals.
What appear to be the most fascinating offerings on Star of Love, however, seem to be the dual songs instructed by Laure’s grandfather and his undiscovered operatic work, those of ‘Swallow’ and ‘Follow’. Taking the former in mind with it’s ear-splitting descent into dubstep synthetic basslines, it seems to have very little operatic consideration. What it does have is a slightly obscure proposition of swallowing what you cherish so that it cannot be taken, which fits perfectly within the Spanish serenade guitars.
The guitars are central to the flip side ‘Follow’, as is a more trance beat. Lyrically they’re sticking with the unfolding syntax approach, and it fits with the growth of the track to a greater degree of success. The divergent tactic of dropping off all the elements, apart from the vocals seems to be in operation as well, but rather than the return being the best bit of the song, the continually rising synths and repeat vocals make it fairly ineffective as a closer.
Where the group have created a distinctive use of their unusual instrumentation, they feel like the most exciting thing around. On the other hand, there are a few too many tracks where they flame, with these instruments buried in the fold, but fail to blow-up. The trick here seems to be that Crystal Fighters are making dance tunes using Basque flavours, rather than making Basque music with a dance beat. The difference is small, but all important. Even after a handful of listens, we’re window shopping, rather than sold.
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