There's a prismatic band-name craze afoot, and Brooklyn's contribution is worth its salt.
Mon Dec 8 2008
Photograph: Lauren Bilanko
We’ve been hanging out for only a few minutes and already, three out of four members of Crystal Stilts are annoyed. They’re getting ready to play a show celebrating the release of their debut album, Alight of Night, at the Greenwich Village loft-cum-venue Less Artists More Condos. But for the moment, guitarist JB Townsend, drummer Frankie Rose and keyboardist Kyle Forrester are jammed into a cluttered room in the building’s cordoned-off sleeping quarters. And they’re all rolling their eyes because the subject of the band’s name has come up. “It’s been in existence for five years,” says Townsend defensively, “so it’s not like we’re following a trend or something.”
Like it or not, the lo-fi, reverb-heavy Brooklyn band is part of a recent wave of popular indie outfits with the word Crystal in their monikers, a phenomenon much chuckled about during this fall’s CMJ Music Marathon. Even with Crystal Skulls in limbo, the festival’s lineup included Crystal Castles and Crystal Antlers—and of course, our own Crystal Stilts. (See “Moment of clarity,” below.)
Anyone who watches the indie-rock circuit knows we’ve been here before, most notably with a rash of Wolf bands around 2005 and 2006 (Wolf Parade, Wolfmother, Wolf Eyes, We Are Wolves). And, as Townsend notes, “There are about a zillion Black bands around,” referring to acts such as the Black Lips, Black Dice, Black Mountain and Black Kids. In all of these cases, the theme is coincidental—not to mention a bit of a drag to the bands in question, who fear they’ll be perceived as bandwagoners. Members of Crystal Castles decline to comment on the issue, and asked if he’d considered the phenomenon, Crystal Antlers singer Jonny Bell retorts, “Are you aware of the other publications with Time in their name?”
Crystal Stilts singer Brad Hargett, 31, doesn’t seem as peeved as his bandmates when asked about the association, though he confesses it’s “a bummer that this is what people are talking about.” As lyricist and resident poet, it was Hargett’s job to christen the group when he started it with Townsend in 2003. (Forrester and Rose, a former member of rising stars Vivian Girls, joined up later). “It came to me in a dream,” Hargett shouts in LAMC’s stairwell, now crowded with young fans waiting to see the show. “But what stuck with me was the irony of it. The idea of walking on crystal stilts, it’s kind of a bad idea. It’s risky.” The band’s music reflects that uneasy quality. Hargett is admittedly shy about singing without a wash of reverb, a tool the band wields to evoke the watercolor quality of vintage recordings. “Elvis Presley used it,” says Rose, expressing her dislike for music in which the singer is separated from the instruments. “Whenever I hear vocals in the forefront,” she says, “I think of American Idol, and I cringe.”
When Crystal Stilts hits the stage, it’s easy to see why its moniker was inspired by a semiconscious state. Hargett is like a latter-day Morrissey, singing melodramatically in a ghostly baritone, with a flower brooch pinned to his shirt. His vocals melt into the band’s dark, slow accompaniment as they move through selections from Alight of Night, including Hargett’s favorite, the surf-rock-tinged theme song “Crystal Stilts.” On the chorus, he sings, “We’re courting dreams / We’re snorting dreams / Distorting dreams / Recording dreams.” These few lines are as clear a mission statement as any band has ever put forth.
Crystal Stilts plays (Le) Poisson Rouge Wed 17.
Moment of clarity Finding distinction in a new wave of like-named bands.»