By Michael Lello
Garage rock or anything loosely called punk or post-punk can be a dicey proposition. Sometimes the attitude and energy is there, but to be blunt, the songs and playing prowess are absent. Other times, though, there are bands that transcend the genres’ shortcomings. Crystal Antlers is an example of the latter, and their third album, “Nothing Is Real,” is a brilliant example, cracking with the confrontational excitement of punk, rooted in melodic songcraft and peppered with inventive musicianship.
Barreling out of the gate with “Pray,” Crystal Antlers establishes a drum-heavy opening with some subtle organ work. The lead single, “Rattlesnake,” is up next, built on a simple and infectious bassline. It’s a mid-tempo, introspective song, but it packs a punch, too, with Jonny Bell yelling “rattlesnake!” on the chorus. While the album is best enjoyed in succession, it’s tempting to hit repeat after hearing this one.
“We All Gotta Die” isn’t as bleak as its name, taking on some Britpop qualities with wistful guitars. Even on a lighter number, it’s worth noting that the drums are again high in the mix, a production choice that gives “Nothing Is Real” a certain identity.
“My mind controls my body,” Bell sings on “Persephone,” an anguished minor-key slab of shoegaze, but the sounds swirling around him are so visceral, it’s hard to believe him. “Anywhere But Here,” meanwhile, is easy-rolling but with a sense of foreboding; Andrew King rips a guitar solo reminiscent of J. Mascis.
Crystal Antlers close the release with the one-two punch of the fast-and-furious “Better Things,” which, like British upstarts Yuck, combines melodic ’90s alt rock with a hard, crunchy feel, and “Wrong Side,” framed by a descending guitar riff and sounding a bit like a punk Band Of Horses.
To say that Crystal Antlers have created a new sonic blueprint would be an overstatement, but it’s what they do with existing templates – Pacific Northwest indie rock, punk, shoegaze, etc. – and how they infuse the music with their own approach and personality that make “Nothing Is Real” an album really worth giving a chance – regardless of where your genre allegiances lie.