Originally published on The Line of Best Fit
Tonight is a time challenge. We have had to pass through different zones (1 and 2) to end up in Cargo(ship)’s Ocean zone, and there are many hipster obstacles in our way. One false step and we could be locked into fashionista purgatory until we’re set free. After cunningly weaving through the crowds, Macbooks and cans of San Miguel, we pass through the arch in to the next zone: Aztec, and like any jungle it’s uncomfortably sweltering and confined like virgin mahogany huddled together against the loggers. When we eventually find a gap in the canopy it’s as though the dome is before us, with musical gold and silver awaiting, and we’re expectant for the fans to start.
As the Crystal Stilts air rush enters, the canopy is confronted with an archetypal group of American outsiders, as is lifted from any Brat Pack film. There’s the good looking one (Keyboard), the nerd (vocals), the straight guy (Bass), the cowboy (guitar), and the meat head (drums of course), and this 80’s tinge seems to be at the essence of Crystal Stilts. Their records sound like they were recorded in 1985 while Jesus and Mary Chain laid down ‘Just Like Honey’ in the next room after a life time of listening to Suicide. However , this joyous interpretation is merely ephemeral, for what Crystal Stilts produce is more than just a reason to make up the numbers at Indie Tracks, rather they invigorate a dark bar-room recess of Lynchian indiepop: A world of snakeskin shoes and smeared lipstick.
They open with the first track from the new record, In Love with Oblivion,’ Sycamore Tree’ with its railroad bass line and snare repetition straight form Johnny Cash. It’s builds with a dark garage vibrato guitar and droning Hammond before Brad Hargett’s vocals drift in like Ian Curtis whispering from down a hole. It’s the sound of a dusty bar at 2am in the Midwest form a cult pulp B-movie. As the set moves on it’s evident that Crystal Stilts have a view of Americana through cracked sunglasses like The Walkmen on downers, and far away from the mid 80’s DIY sheen.
Despite initially looking nerdy and uncomfortable on stage it’s soon apparent that Hargett is actually Napoleon Dynamite with the spirit of Jim Morrison. He can meander between standing aimlessly, to detached hypnotic preaching. There’s also a 60’s psychedelia to tonight, with lava lamp lights and a looping drum and Hammond mantra encompass you like tokens in the dome. The peace and love free spirit is exemplified as a wasted French girl invades the stage and stumblingly wafts her arms around like the Age of Aquarius has arrived, just like you see in those old hippy documentaries on BBC4. Unfortunately this involves kicking beer over Kyle Forester’s keyboard wires nearly jeopardising the rest of the show. But that’s the danger of this level of inspiration.
Tracks like ‘Promethues at Large’, ‘Invisible City and ‘Crippled Croon’ all show a desire to be more than just indiepop rehashes. Like Slumbland label mates The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, they are taking a core DIY Lo-Fi base and transporting in to other genres. In the case of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart it’s to the stadium, but for Crystal Stilts it’s firmly in dusty late night Americana. They’re focussed on the specific images and American iconography of the past, so one could say they’re in a time warp. But I would happily do the time warp again because they were pretty (crystal) amazing.