When Crystal Stilts’ first album, Alight of Night, appeared in 2008, it announced the arrival of a gang of New York City psychedelicists who owed as much to the fuzz-drenched, ‘60s-informed sounds of ‘80s bands like the Spacemen 3 and The Jesus & Mary Chain as they did to the first-generation garage-rocking wonders of the Nuggets era. And as likeminded locals Vivian Girls and Frankie Rose & The Outs emerged—Rose having played with both the Girls and the Stilts—the indie-rock blogosphere smelled a scene and went hog-wild. Two-and-a-half years down the road from Alight, Crystal Stilts have solidified their position as Brooklyn’s premier garage-psych sorcerers with their second full-length, In Love With Oblivion.
While the band hasn’t necessarily ventured far afield from the acid-soaked, reverb-happy sounds of their debut, the follow-up is a richer, fuller-sounding affair, boasting a more vivid—and just slightly wider—sonic and stylistic palette. Sure, those snake-charmer organ riffs, bottom-of-a-well guitar tones and Ian-Curtis-on-an-acid-trip vocals are still front and center, but tempo and dynamics are more varied—there’s even a touch of glam on “Through the Floor” and a visit to Velvet Underground territory on “Prometheus At Large.”
Guitarist JB Townsend, who first began the Crystal journey with singer Brad Hargett some eight years ago, feels the difference between the Stilts’ two albums is more about time thantoil. “A slight change is natural, I think,” says Townsend, “First thing that comes to mind with bands that have albums that sound alike is that they were most likely recorded very close together.” But there’s been some expansion in the ranks as well. “This is an album that is a window into the band as a five piece in 2010,” he explains, “Whereas the first one was Brad singing and me doing the music. The first one is a little more stripped sometimes.”
Pondering the scratchy guitars, minimal, Mo Tucker-ish beat, and plinking piano that evoke vintage VU on the aforementioned “Prometheus at Large,” Townsend says, “It wasn’t totally deliberate initially. We recorded that one in one take and just had a very rough sketch of it, and wanted it to be spontaneous. There are very few bands that I would have no shame in blatantly ripping off, and VU’s one of them. I don’t want to be a VU cover band though.”
While there’s little danger of anyone mistaking Crystal Stilts for any kind of cover band, they seem to feel comfortable sporting their influences on their sleeves, a trait they share with their fellow travelers Vivian Girls and Frankie Rose. “We played with them a bit when they first started out a few years ago,” he says of the former, “Frankie played drums with us for awhile too. Sweet ladies all around.” Asked if there are other current bands, inside or outside the New York scene, with whom he feels a connection, Townsend replies “Yes, definitely,” reeling off a roster of psych/stoner soldiers. “Wooden Shjips, Moon Duo, Thee Oh Sees, White Fence, Tyvek, Psychedelic Horseshit, TNV, etc., etc.”
Photo by Erika Spring
But beyond the ‘60s psych influence, there are other aspects of the Crystal Stilts’ sound that aren’t touted as often—touches of everything from post-punk to krautrock. Asked about the band’s less obvious inspirations, Townsend observes “Well no one ever nails us for sounding a bit like the Troggs, but I think we do sometimes,” adding cheekily, “We also sound a lot like Funkadelic, but no one’s picking that up, so I guess we dodged a bullet there.”