“This is a thoughtful song about the kind of purgatorial nature of life and indeed nightlife. It’s not hard for us to recollect times of extreme isolation and weariness when at a non-stop party and this song is supposed to add some kind of melancholic optimism to that scenario, culminating in liquid acoustic jungle.” …Seriously? Like, dude, seriously? That was a quote from Sebastian Pringle of balearic synth pop freak-folksters Crystal Fighters explaining – not describing, explaining – a track from his band’s new album, Cave Rave. The quote speaks volumes about the album and the band as a whole. Besides being an incredibly overwrought and self-congratulating monologue, it betokens the kind of unfulfilled, hippie-manqué frustration that is rife on Cave Rave.
Wave opens the album with…you guessed it. After the tide recedes from the shore, crystally synths twinkle and tom-tom drums pound. “We’re here our way / Hear the same groove / Get on the wave / Universal sons…” Or perhaps it’s “suns”? It doesn’t really matter – it’s a flowery platitude either way. The chorus pushes the vocals, along with any distinguishing features, right to the back of the mix, dousing them in a strange, overpowering echo, which only brings attention to the fact that this grating effect has been there the entire time. It is testament to the fact that just because something is labelled a dance track doesn’t mean it’s going to make you want to dance.
The jaunty, Vampire Weekend-esque LA Calling projects the same vague tweeness as the opener: “Love this place, but I gotta keep moving / You got the best thing right now, it’s no illusion”. A group of voices struggle to fit the lyrics into the space of the chorus, desolating the song and rendering it nowhere near as catchy as it could have been. It then shifts into mid-’90s Eurodance territory when Pringle speaks over a breakdown: “Thought it was all gonna end / I didn’t want it to end / Cause I was feeling on top / I was feeling on top of the world / Thinking about you girl”. Aqua did it better.
Simply put, these guys belong in a woven, all-hemp sack with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and that guy at your uni who wears a jester’s hat and rides a unicycle. Songs like You & I, Separator and Are We One are schizophrenic jumbles of disparate genres – there is no blend, no mix, no passing of anything through a specific filter. Every influence from dubstep to folk to J-pop to calypso is segregated in 20-30 second segments within each song.
Besides making the tracks sound like saccharine Eurovision medleys, this steadfast dedication to swinging from genre to genre forces the band to discard every good idea they have. It makes you feel as though they just stumbled by chance into a catchy hook or a solid refrain. Even the disastrous Separator has a catchy breakdown sandwiched between a new wave-sounding strut and a resultantly jarring tribal drum jam.
The slower songs like the folky No Man, poppy sing-along Bridge of Bones and the hushed Everywhere have their own problems. For every uninspired hook or mediocre riff the band turns to Pro Tools like a life of crime. That annoying echo never goes anywhere and serves almost no purpose besides acting as a deterrent from turning the volume up too much.
The songs Bridge of Bones and the chilled These Nights reveal that Crystal Fighters do possess some considerable songwriting talent, but they are sadly dismantled by a desire to flout convention. Even the latter song, with its simple and beautiful hook, is interrupted by a drum ‘n’ bass loop that enters uninvited and stays until the end of the track.
The worst part is that, for a band whose credo is apparently one of whimsical yet thoughtful hedonism, there isn’t a single point on Cave Rave in which the band actually get indulgent. They never take the time. If anything, they avoid indulgence like the plague. Pringle comes off less like a merry spiritualist and more like an exhausted fatalist who’s convinced himself that his own fairy world is better than whatever joy you can sap from real life. Ultimately, Cave Rave is an album of diminishing returns, every listen uncovering more things to dislike about it and exhausting the things you do.