Earlier this year, Long Beach, Calif., based Crystal Antlers earned some notoriety for their awe-inspiring live show and a self-released EP that essentially transformed them from virtual unknowns to buzz band in a very short period of time. Yet, even after the band’s EP began making its way from one enthusiast’s computer to the next, obscurity still enshrouded the band, and though intrigue certainly grew, the band was just too damn good to be known only among an elite group. Thus, Touch & Go Records intervened, and have done the world a favor by allowing everyone to hear this amazing piece of music once and for all.
Crystal Antlers’ EP is a celebration of noisy, psychedelic and fiery music, with influences ranging from the likes of MC5, The Stooges and Blue Cheer, to more contemporary freak-out artists like The Mae Shi. And The Mars Volta is yet another name dropped when this band is discussed, but I’ll only concede that comparison in the sense that I’ve always sort of wanted The Mars Volta to sound how Crystal Antlers do. In a general sense though, Crystal Antlers take on psychedelic sounds with a refreshingly modern approach. There’s a fierceness about them that carries an almost hardcore-kind of intensity, as the full-frontal assault of “Until the Sun Dies (Part 2)” displays. And yet there in that very same song, the band spreads out into broader, looser territory with a free and hypnotic vibe.
Crystal Antlers’ primary purpose, however, is to rock, and this debut EP is six tracks of some of the most visceral, urgent noisemaking around. It’s dense and it’s full of wild organ and guitar work that sometimes envelop everything else within a song, but at their core, the songs on this EP are composed with strong melodies and stunning textures. Examine “Vexation,” a two-minute track that surges toward the listener with unrelenting riffs and a bassline that truly pounds. Meanwhile, “A Thousand Eyes” has a salsa syncopation that descends into a mellow, melancholy breakdown. “Arcturus” is another short and brutal gem, while the seven-minute closer “Parting Song for the Torn Sky” is marked by a fantastic bass groove and guitar squeals aplenty.
All too often psych-rock or prog-rock can descend into a morass of excess and aimlessness, but Crystal Antlers’ approach is more melodic and more direct. The SoCal group’s instrumentation is every bit as heady and spaced-out as some of their less accessible brethren, but what ultimately marks them is their commitment to melody. Crystal Antlers delivers the best of many worlds, while taking the listener to a new one altogether.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.