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MUSIC: Crystal Castles

At the end of “Kerosene,” an early highlight on Crystal Castles’ (III), a robotic yet tender voice sings, “I’ll protect you from all the things I’ve seen.” Such moments of genuine beauty appear throughout Crystal Castles’ new album—the first of theirs that I would venture to call beautiful. It is also the duo’s most cohesive work yet, feeling more fully realized than their previous albums which, while consistently intriguing to listen to, could feel like mere patchworks of good ideas.

This cohesion undoubtedly stems from the clear and singular tone Crystal Castles adopt from the haunting opener “Plague” to the gorgeous closer “Child I Will Hurt You.” In early statements about the album and its influences, vocalist and lyricist Alice Glass spoke of losing faith in humanity and a world of victims, injustice, and corruption. This bleak outlook is pervasive in (III), but is more subtle than one might expect out of a group prone to an almost gratuitous discordance. Even “Insulin,” the (III)’s most dissonant track, shows a newfound restraint that supports the songs around instead of calling a disproportionate amount of attention to itself, a noticeable flaw in some tracks from previous albums. Processing on Glass’s voice remains heavy, but instead of further stripping away the humanity in her voice and losing it in the mechanic synths, her voice gains a ghostlike quality, letting Glass narrate the pain but never from a vantage point where she can intervene.

(III)’s greatest strength lies in its cohesive storytelling. While Ethan Kath’s distinct demonic Gameboy/Timbaland-gone-wrong style of production remains strong, it is Glass’s lyrical and vocal contributions that keeps it fresh. Through this potent combination, Crystal Castles’ meditation on the ugliness of the world manages to not only salvage beauty but create some splendor of its own.