Crystal Castles was an experimental electronic band formed in 2003 in Toronto consisting of producer Ethan Kath and formerly of vocalist Alice Glass. The duo was known for their chaotic live shows and lo-fi melancholic homemade productions. They released many limited vinyl EPs between 2006 and 2007.
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In 2006, their first single/EP “Alice Practice” was released on vinyl and was limited to 500 copies, which sold out in 3 days. Their debut album, Crystal Castles, was released in 2008 and was listed on NME’s “Top 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade” list at No. 39.
In 2010, they announced their second album, titled Crystal Castles aka (II), after they released their first studio EP, Celestica/Doe Deer. The album was their first release to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, and includes their first worldwide charting single, “Not In Love”, featuring Robert Smith of The Cure. The album has received general acclaim and was placed on many 2010 top critics lists.
Their third album, (III), was released on November 12, 2012. 4 singles have been released: “Plague”, “Wrath of God”, “Sad Eyes”, “Affection”.
Alice Glass announced her departure from the band in October 2014, citing both personal and professional reasons.
Formation and debut album
Ethan Kath met Alice Glass in Toronto when she was 15. He thought he had found an “undiscovered poet” after hearing her sing in her all-girl punk band Fetus Fatale. Kath asked her to record vocals over tracks he had been working on since 2003. After writing lyrics for 5 tracks, she went to a studio to record them, where an engineer secretly recorded her soundcheck. Kath discovered the secret soundcheck recording, named it “Alice Practice,” and uploaded it online under the band name Crystal Castles, a line from the cartoon She-Ra that stated “The fate of the world is safe in the Crystal Castle.” In 2005 the songs “Magic Spells”, “Untrust Us”, and “Alice Practice” grew popular online, and he began receiving offers from record labels. This news was especially shocking to Glass, having lost touch with Kath since the recording and up to that point unaware “Alice Practice” even existed. The song became the band’s first official release in 2006 on a limited vinyl which was released by London’s Merok Records. The record included tracks like “XXZXCUZX ME”, which Kath states he made ‘grating’ on purpose. When questioned about his motives behind this move, Kath responded with “To weed out the wimps, to annoy the posers. We are saying, “We are not for you”.
Several limited edition 7″ vinyl singles followed in 2006 and 2007 on various independent labels, including two on London’s Trouble Records. In 2008, Lies Records collected most of the vinyl singles and released them on CD and 12″ vinyl for the first time, along with many previously unreleased tracks and 3 songs recorded just for the collection which made their debut album. This eponymous debut album was included in NME’s “Top 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade” list at number 39.
Crystal Castles (II) and (III)
Crystal Castles at Counterpoint Festival 2012
The band’s second album, also self-titled (also known as Crystal Castles (II)), was released on May 24, 2010. In April 2010, an early mix of the album leaked, prompting the label to release earlier than expected (original release date was June 2010). The album was moderately successful charting in the UK at number 48, the US at number 188 and number 25 in Australia.
The third single taken from the album, “Not in Love”, featuring Robert Smith from The Cure, is currently the band’s highest charting single to date. Crystal Castles headlined the Shockwaves NME Awards Tour 2011 in the United Kingdom while singer Alice Glass suffered from a broken ankle.
In March 2012, Crystal Castles announced their relocation to Warsaw to begin recording their third album. On June 14, 2012, a self-shot video of Crystal Castles’ June 9 performance at Parklife 2012 was uploaded to YouTube, boasting a then-untitled new, unreleased song. Over the following weeks, the song’s name was revealed to be “Plague” and was released on July 25 as a single, via Crystal Castles’ SoundCloud page. On September 26, the duo released “Wrath of God” as the album’s second single. On the same day, the duo stated that the album would be released on November 5, a date that was later pushed back to November 12. The official cover art of the album was posted on the band’s Facebook page. On October 9, the band revealed the official track listing on their Facebook. The album was released on iTunes on November 7, five days earlier than the anticipated release date. “Affection” was released as the album’s third single on October 31, 2012.
Alice Glass’ Departure
In October 2014, via a Facebook post, Alice Glass announced she was leaving Crystal Castles. The statement read:
“My art and my self-expression in any form has always been an attempt towards sincerity, honesty, and empathy for others. For a multitude of reasons both professional and personal I no longer feel that this is possible within Crystal Castles. Although this is the end of the band, I hope my fans will embrace me as a solo artist in the same way they have embraced Crystal Castles.”
Crystal Castles’ musical style has been described as “ferocious, asphyxiating sheets of warped two-dimensional Gameboy glitches and bruising drum bombast that pierces your skull with their sheer shrill force, burrowing deep into the brain like a fever.” To listen to Crystal Castles, according to the BBC, “is to be cast adrift in a vortex of deafening pain without a safety net. You get the feeling you could do anything in the world, but that ‘anything’ would ultimately mean nothing.”
With the release of their second album, their music made a “shift toward beauty and clarity,” finding “different ways to mix icy synth pop with white-hot noise, as well as present them in an ever so slightly more polished form.”
During recording of their third album Ethan Kath adopted a “strictly no computers rule,” and ditched their old synthesizers and keyboards. Of this decision Ethan revealed Crystal Castles wanted “the new album to sound like a completely different and new experience” and revealed that they had limited themselves to one take per song because they believed “the first take is the rawest expression of an idea.”