Crystal Castle - Amnesty (I)
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Many groups have trouble carrying on after losing their lead singers, but few have vocalists quite as attention-getting as Alice Glass. Her voice and image defined Crystal Castles' volatile mix of delicacy and aggression so perfectly, it was sometimes easy to take Ethan Kath's distinctive blend of chiptune, synth-pop, industrial, and more for granted. Glass' 2014 departure didn't mean the end of Crystal Castles, however; Kath resurfaced in 2015 with new vocalist Edith Frances, who acquits herself well on Amnesty. Frances is more of a singer than Glass was, with a sweeter tone and greater control that is reflected in Kath's productions. Amnesty's singles provide the bridge between old and new Crystal Castles: "Fleece" and "Frail" prove Frances can shriek admirably, with a backdrop of caustic synths on the former and hints of anthemic EDM on the latter. However, some of the more furious tracks, like "Concrete" and "Enth," sound a little too contained and familiar when compared to the Glass era. Indeed, the album works best when Kath and Frances build on the past instead of trying to re-create it. "Chloroform" and "Sadist" feel like a natural progression from III in the way they balance the extremes of Crystal Castles' music, pairing whispery vocals with synths that pack a wallop. Fittingly, some of Amnesty's most soothing songs are the most genuine, whether it's the gentle bookends of "Femen" and "Their Kindness Is Charade," the delicate layers of "Ornament," or the gloomily beautiful "Char," which takes stock of a corrosive relationship. Amnesty even marks a break with the band's previously numerical album titles, suggesting a reprieve as well as a coming to terms with the past to move on from it. With these songs, Kath and Frances do just that: Even if Amnesty lacks some of the intensity of Crystal Castles' earlier work, it accomplishes the tricky task of providing common ground and a fresh start.