Crystal Antlers – Nothing is Real

Despite seven years of sporadically stepping into the indie limelight, Crystal Antlers are a band I’ve never given much attention. For years they’ve been on my general radar, but only insignificantly. Truthfully, I’ve neglected them so thoroughly and for so long my mental dossier on them was unfairly meaningless and short. Indie rock – that’s about all my brain could muster when I noticed them on the Drunken Unicorn’s October listings. So why bother now? Because disregarding something you know hardly anything about is sort of moronic. And sometimes buried beneath the cobwebs you’ve allowed to accumulate is something you really, really love. Unfortunately, that’s not the case this time.

Nothing is Real is Crystal Antlers’ fourth full-length and, according to its press release, their most cohesive – reportedly a success in a lengthy fight to finally present an album that truly matches their sonic self-image. It is true that their previous recordings were somewhat scattered. On “Parting Song for the Torn Sky,” their 2006 debut single, they’re metal-leaning, and frontman Jonny Bell’s screeches are drawn out and ear-scorching. Crystal Antlers’ 2009 LP, Tentacles, trips out with psychedelic organ and the frenetic rattling of jangle-pop. All the while, Bell’s vocals squeal almost as unbearably as shouted screamo whines, but later he gets soulful on “Memorized,” a church choir-recalling cut from the same collection. Two-Way Mirror’s title track, on the other hand, is an amplified take on the kind of carnival freak-show confusion of an early Cursive song.

Their pride in finally reaching a unified sound this go ’round isn’t totally unfounded. They’re really more put-together than ever. Sadly, it’s actually that very achievement that’s the problem.

The Long Beach band, supposedly now right where they want to be, is too bombastic, too pumped, too emotional. Nothing is Real does boast its fair share of impressive moments – impeccable super-speed drumming on “Pray,” the opener, plus plenty of intricate, heavy riffage, like on “Paper Thin” and “Persephone.” But more often than not Crystal Antlers are over-reaching, overdoing it. And with Bell’s raspy, raging vocals in the spotlight, the whole thing just seems like a teenage melodramatic hissy fit.

To say it isn’t worth a listen is sort of mean, I suppose. I genuinely dislike negative reviews, as they feel to me more subjective than a positive write-up championing a band – but I can’t apologize for finding the heartfelt post-hardcore shtick personally irrelevant.

Crystal Antlers
Nothing is Real
[Innovative Leisure]