Crystal Antlers have always been a lot more normal than the general consensus gives them credit for. On their earlier releases, a fairly consistent devotion to snarling garage rock sat beneath the neo-psychedelic trappings of freaky organ and spazzy woodwinds. On the Californians’ third full-length, Nothing Is Real, they more fully embrace the straightforward aesthetic by nixing the bongos, throwing away the keys, and stripping down to guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. Oddly enough, the rawk-oriented approach results in something that feels a lot less heavy.
This wouldn’t be a problem if that’s what the band was going for, but all signs point to quite the opposite. The music clips along at a heel-nipping pace — furious drum fills drive opener “Pray”, while “Licorice Pizza” ricochets between each side of the headphones with punk-addled squall. And yet, despite the momentum, tinny production keeps the songs from reaching maximum impact, something that it’s hard to blame the band for. Low fidelity has and always will be a huge part of punk, garage rock, and indie music (all three of which Crystal Antlers tend to fall into here). And, who knows, maybe the group simply couldn’t afford the engineer they wanted. But, whether the sound quality on Nothing Is Real is intentional or not, the lo-fi rattling smothers the hooks and makes the songs feel suspiciously like demos. By the time things clear up enough to latch on to a track, it’s almost over.
The one exception is first single “Rattlesnake”, a tune with a slinky bass line and loud-soft dynamics that refuse to be buried. Elsewhere, however, the songs succumb to that pressure, and would benefit from a thicker coat of polish, or at least a more varied palette. Though they were never quite as odd as they were supposed to be, it may yet be time to bring back them woodwinds.
Essential Tracks: “Rattlesnake”