Saturday, 14 February 2009

Live Review: Crystal Stilts + A Classic Education @ Windmill, Brixton 13/2/09

Brooklyn has been at the centre of a garage-pop revival of late, born of stripped-back diy-rock that finds its feet somewhere between the dreampop of C86 cohorts The Shop Assistants and lo-fi post-punk outfit Young Marble Giants. Key players on the scene include Cause Co-motion, Vivian Girls, and tonight’s Windmill headliners, Crystal Stilts.

First up from Italy, A Classic Education are a sextet with an unpretentious yet unoriginal take on tambourine-bashing indie-pop of late, a la Arcade Fire (the band once opened for Win Butler and co. last year). Despite hailing from Bologna, their lyrics curl with a thick American accent that reminds of Deathcab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard. Two guitars give the band sound depth, while a violinist lends an orchestral element that veers towards the grandiose, but is limited by lyrics that tend to lack guile. They finish with ‘Stay Son’, a track from the ‘First EP’, and depart the tiny corner stage to disperse among the tight-packed crowd.

First impressions of Crystal Stilts confirm them a frosty bunch. The sporadic elements of their sound, shot with lo-fi romance, seem in constant conflict, which lends itself to a stuffy tension. Vocalist Brad Hargett towers at the front, but his voice is barely audible beneath rattling tambourines, the tinny chimes of a sixties organ, reverberating surfer guitars and what can only be described as ferocious drumming on the part of ex-Vivian Girls’ percussionist, Frankie Rose. It’s at once gloomy and infectious.

What Crystal Stilts lack in variation they make up for in sonic consistency, adopting a contrived unbalance that makes their sound lysergic and dour. Hargett reminds of Ian Curtis as he sways, arms swinging, steely gaze fixed and voice deep and droning. When the band address the audience, the words come from Frankie on drums, drenched in sweat and grinning, or muffled and vacant from Hargett. There’s something irrepressibly revivalist about the spectral guitars and faux-romanticism of the doom-pop Crystal Stilts purport. But they carry the flag unapologetically ahead of their Brooklyn-based peers and if art reflects life, Crystal Stilts are the perfect soundtrack to empty purses in the half-light of this wintry city.

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