Ever since their first EP, Crystal Stilts have mostly been pegged by the music press as purveyors of all things moody and dark, inheritors of the miserablist mantle of Joy Division or Interpol. If that tag ever had any relevance (and perhaps it did at times, say on “Alien Rivers,” one of the darker and more atmospheric songs on this year’s In Love with Oblivion) then the first side of this EP should serve as a good indicator that that’s by no means all they do. Instead, a couple of the songs on this five-track EP are more uptempo and outrightly poppy, closer to the upbeat fun of singles “Love is a Wave” or “Through the Floor.” On those songs, Crystal Stilts sounded closer to Nuggest-style sixties garage pop than to any Velvet Underground-style nihilist affectations, and that’s the case here too.
“Dark Eyes” is the record’s lead-out track and probably the best song here, four minutes of two-chord drone-pop with buzzing organs and some very girl-group handclaps. Kyle Forester’s keyboards are further to the front than usual, over a clean strummed guitar, and the effect is to make “Dark Eyes” the biggest-sounding thing they’ve ever recorded, glorious technicolour rather than their usually sombre palette. “Radiant Door” is a bit closer to what might be called the usual ‘Crystal Stilts sound’; JB Townsend’s delayed guitar leading the way, and although it’s a pretty good song, they’ve done this kind of thing better elsewhere. A run through the Lee Hazlewood-penned “Still as the Night,” played fairly straight, is again a bit fuller-sounding than usual for them, the keyboards adding some nice textures to Townsend’s Duane Eddy guitar riff.
It’s on the EP’s second side that they begin to reflect that more subdued and sombre sound, with a cover of The Blue Orchids’ “Low Profile” and an original, suitably entitled “Frost Inside the Asylum.” The Blue Orchids, a Manchester post-punk band formed by a couple of ex-members of The Fall, seem like a pretty perfect fit in mood and sound for Crystal Stilts, and the cover’s played again very close to the original (with the same synth flourishes and even in the same key, straining Brad Hargett’s vocals a bit towards the end). “Frost Inside the Asylum” is the most successful of the slower tracks here, combining “All Tomorrow’s Parties” drums with sustained one-chord organ and Hargett’s mournful vocal lines.
So while “Dark Eyes” might do something to dispel their melancholy reputation, this EP sticks pretty close to Crystal Stilts’ strengths as so convincingly demonstrated on their last album. That two of the five songs are covers isn’t a bad thing, but it does give the impression that this record’s a bit of a throwaway: there are some interesting directions pointed out by the denser arrangements, but we’ll have to wait to see how they’ll realise them more fully.