If ever there were an advertisement for musical chaos that wasn’t quite as chaotic as it could be, Crystal Antlers’ album Two-Way Mirror would surely be the soundtrack.
It’s not as if the album isn’t good, in fact, it ticks most boxes that need to be ticked for a neo-psychedelic band. However, there’s a certain freshness that’s sorely lacking on half of Two-Way Mirrors. Considering there have been bands pioneering some kind of neo-psychedelia for almost a decade now, there’s a clear yardstick and for something to be spectacular a new trick needs to be added; The Mars Volta, Yeasayer and Animal Collective have all produced spectacular albums in terms of scope and vision, while treading completely different paths to one another. Crystal Antlers’ strict guitar/bass/drums approach pales in comparison, a weakness highlighted all the more when considering The Mars Volta are structured the same way. Besides, if there’s anything a psych band shouldn’t want to do, it’s merely ticking the boxes.
As with any good-to-great album though, there are such, such brilliant moments on Two-Way Mirror that bring the opinion up. Crystal Antlers are far better when they’re downbeat, contemplative and far more heartfelt musically. “Summer Solstice” starts with a gorgeous and simple piano melody backed by distant guitars which grab hold of the song as soon as everything else kicks in. As it progresses there’s more of a minimalist indie vibe than anything else which is accentuated by closing the song with a simple acoustic guitar. “Fortune Telling” is just as downbeat, with a marching-type drum pattern interspersed between clear, chiming guitars. At one point the song almost sounds as if it’s grinding to a halt before picking up again. “Knee Deep” starts and stops continuously, its guitars full of echo and haunting, almost sounding as if it could be the accompaniment to a house-of-horrors circus ride.
There are two oddities on Two-Way Mirror. The first is “Way Out,” a short interlude piece which is tantalisingly shows how broody and experimental Crystal Antlers could be if they ever had the inclination to go down a fuzzed-out, atmospheric path. The second is album closer “Dog Days,” which resembles more of a straightforward rocker than anything else on the album (which, granted, doesn’t really make it a rocker). Its leisurely beginnings making way for a sense of urgency towards the end, rounding out the album quite nicely.
This review is just as schizophrenic as Two-Way Mirror, it seems. It might sound as if I’m trashing the album at one stage, however, the positives outweigh the negatives. The album is almost split between a first half of controlled chaos and bristling energy, and a second half of forays into a melting pot of folk and psychedelia, which on the one hand showcase different aspects, however on the other, means there’s a lack of flow. The production stays true throughout, with the vocals being far back in the mix; a good thing for the slower song, but too quiet and unassuming for the livelier songs. All in all, Two-Way Mirror is a good but flawed album, with plenty of things to excite, but a few things that can disappoint.