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Hi-Fi & Headphones — Crystal Wolves

by

It’s a humid August after­noon, and the smell of aged rur­al life wraps up my nasal pas­sage. I’m at a decom­mis­sioned dairy farm a few miles out­side of Nor­wich, in upstate New York. I’m wait­ing for a hand­ful of 20-some­things to return from the farm­ers market. 

The new, hyped, indis­putably Brook­lyn band Crys­tal Wolves are in the midst of record­ing songs for their first full-length Wolves Crys­tal, a light­ning quick fol­low-up to their adored debut/concert, the Crys­tal Wolves Live EP from last Sat­ur­day. Hav­ing spent the past few days in Brook­lyn writ­ing and record­ing from their ille­gal­ly con­vert­ed, ille­gal­ly sub­let loft space in East East Williams­burg, a change of mid­week scenery was decid­ed last minute in order to regain focus and, “do some­thing real,” accord­ing to lead singer, and de fac­to face of the band, Antho­ny Bon­zaine.

The band, all orig­i­nal­ly from parts of the Mid­west, met dur­ing a Meet­up group for lovers of film pro­jec­tions in Bush­wick, Brook­lyn. Almost imme­di­ate­ly, there were plans to write music togeth­er for a found footage pro­jec­tion show for park­ing garages (Called “Spots for Retired Kalei­do­scopes in E Major”). Bon­zaine — a young Count Choc­u­la look-alike — describes the ini­tial meet­ing as, “cherubs at a hol­i­day mixer.”Â 

And despite form­ing near­ly a week and a half ago, an under­cur­rent of back­lash is already begin­ning to swell thanks in large part to the fanat­ic antic­i­pa­tion sur­round­ing the upcom­ing album on hyper­local microblogs such as Head­phone Dum­mies and The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Ave. 

“No wants to appre­ci­ate the same thing or per­son for too long any­more. One moment they’re prais­ing him as the next DiCaprio, and a day lat­er he’s a hack? C’mon. I mean, Paul Dano, man…” Antho­ny shows me the tat­too on his inner fore­arm of the young film star.

With Antho­ny: John­ny Ringle, lead gui­tarist (quite lit­er­al­ly — he cur­rent­ly keeps 23 dif­fer­ent axes), and fra­ter­nal twins Jansen & Antoine IV, cov­er­ing pret­ty much any­thing else need­ing cov­er­age along the spec­trum of melody and rhythm. 

Take the patent­ed fuzz chan­nels from The Sleeze Buck­ets cir­ca 1978–1981 (pri­or to their left turn into pro­to-Hip Hop/John Hugh­es sound­track ter­ri­to­ry), place along­side the hon­ey-pot vocals of vin­tage Tina Marie Lovechild and the absolute­ly pum­mel­ing hero­ics of dis­tort­ed pow­er-chord pur­vey­ors Tsetse, and you would begin to veer towards the sound Crys­tal Wolves have become known for. Look­ing at the online reviews of their first tour (a two base­ment, one bar, four night jaunt along the L line), the webzine NWBKLYN wrote of their live show as, “the kind of thing you’d hope to find at the Flea… wrapped up in vel­vet crepes, sliced up and served on chic rust­ed cop­per plat­ter.”

———

The next day over a break­fast of ca phe and baguettes, Antho­ny and John­ny lead me to the stu­dio set up in the back cor­ner of the barn to hear sam­ples of the new record­ings. Ear­ly returns com­bine the respec­tive­ly unique strains of noise from High Top Suede Top and Fucked Up Tribe, adding the fan­ta­sy vision of Hunter Hunter. Not a far cry from Yayay­o­de or late-era The Scoops, nor their orig­i­nal sound, but show­ing clear pro­gres­sion towards a new end. It’s this progress that John­ny has been work­ing on for near­ly a month. “I sleep in a bath­tub,” he explained while tight­en­ing his gui­tar strings, “so I know exact­ly how I want the reverb to sound.”  

Anthony’s lyrics, on the oth­er hand, appear to make no sense at all, yet are full of com­mon sense; side­step­ping the details of his own exis­tence for a more gen­er­al one. He guile­less­ly shifts through an effi­cient­ly clever line while sort­ing out cables, “There weren’t any bod­ies for any­body / Nobody holds their own in the 21st cen­tu­ry / Big boys with lit­tle toys / And girls with eccen­tric­i­ties.”

The stakes are clear, bold lines drawn in the sand with every word reflect­ing the cur­rent cli­mate like abstract expres­sion­ist painters. These guys simul­ta­ne­ous­ly evoke nos­tal­gia and futur­ophil­ia in the same har­ried breath.

I fol­low John­ny out for a smoke on the porch and ask him about being in a pop­u­lar band with­out a prop­er release. “You wouldn’t know,” he spits in between puffs.

And he’s right.

———

The bulk of the day car­ries for­ward not so much by record­ing per se, but by a string of sev­er­al freeform “jam­prov” ses­sions which John­ny says will “prob­a­bly” end up on the record “in some form”. Their riff­ing sounds as if you sur­gi­cal­ly removed the growl­ing ecsta­sy of Big Fat’s ear­ly home demos off Pump-Pis­tol Records for post-pro­cess­ing, and co-opt­ed it for 180-gram vinyl release with The Trash­birds’ ana­log sen­si­bil­i­ties. Played along side, but a lit­tle bit loud­er than, the stom­ach swelling notes from Frank Blay­lock and the Sec­on­daries’ 1982 release Signs to Nowhere. It’s that form of Oth­er­ness pro­mot­ed by the melod­ic pur­suit of con­ver­sa­tions which herds the aur­al activ­i­ty into a sta­ble of forth­right­ness not oth­er­wise achieved. 

Or as Antho­ny puts it, “To cap­ture the hook with­in a hook… you know?”

Dur­ing anoth­er short break for John­ny to step out­side, I casu­al­ly ask Jansen, the younger of the broth­ers, and self-described poly­in­tra­mul­ti­soni­cist, for a pen­cil next to him. He snaps. The clear pres­sure of the hours, days, week of record­ing reach­ing an unbear­able strain. “I do not use pen­cils!” he shouts, “Per­ma­nence is delib­er­ate!”

I catch Antho­ny self-absorbed, inter­view­ing a melody of spe­cious notes before Jansen starts to play hide and seek with bass lines around his brother’s stac­ca­to tac­tics, and some­thing begins to come togeth­er. Antoine IV rears his head back towards the kitchen in antic­i­pa­tion: tape sta­t­ic, bruised ampli­fiers, a de-tuned drum kit: the stuff hit sin­gles are made of. The ”˜52 but­ter­scotch blonde Tele­cast­er on Johnny’s hip effort­less­ly syn­co­pat­ing to the rhythm from Jansen’s cor­ner, and then, sud­den squall — a cold show­er of bricks; dis­tort­ed pop mag­ic à la Ghost Hearts medi­at­ing con­flict with Fuck Up Tribe. A base­ball bat to the head. You could just as eas­i­ly imag­ine The Spaz­gags in a dilap­i­dat­ed room on Orchard Street, flip­ping each oth­er off in between re-writ­ing music the­o­ry with bro­ken gui­tars and an old wood­en chair.

The Fuck­tard Lamés, Pol Pot, Tri­an­gle Tri­an­gle, and The Fat Bats all swim around my head in the same pub­lic pool. Phrasal­ly ref­er­enc­ing The Popes on gui­tar sit­u­a­tions, rhyth­mi­cal­ly ordain­ing name­less indies from the ear­ly 90s, and dan­ger­ous­ly aping Stoßtrupp’s über vocal treat­ments. Men­tion­ing this to Antho­ny, he claims that they’ve heard, “maybe two?…” of these bands. Sim­ply pluck­ing inno­va­tion from the air like Tesla. 

The notes coa­lesce into a stair­case of orgias­tic sound hori­zons over dis­tort­ed dol­phin-esque squeals. The dizzy­ing effect of slid­ing bass mis­sives slop­ing around hi-hats and crash­es trumps last year’s sun­set stomp induc­ing house goth mas­ter­piece Ghoul­ish Ghoulash from KCP. Sear­ing vocals punc­tu­at­ing a mim­ic­ry for ear­ly 00’s fadecore. The only thought allowed in my brain at this point is spa­tial. These young men are tru­ly wolves, rip­ping the flesh of musi­cal medi­oc­rity with trans­for­ma­tive blood­lust.

Lis­ten­ing to a rough excerpt of “Cat Calls for Nia­gara ____” on the dri­ve back down, an Orion’s Belt of ref­er­ences jump into mind, rang­ing from the Sa-Pops to So What, Who Cares?!; For­lorn Uni­corn to Poor­est Places, Sedat­ed Bari­tones, and Go Away; John Wayne Creep­a­zoids and Co. Con­spir­a­tors to The Youths, The Rakes, Futur­is­tic Bells, Zom­bie Babysit­ter, and The Whack Jobs; and cer­tain­ly the Lon­don scene that gen­er­at­ed a stable’s worth of genre-mud­dling acts includ­ing Pat­ri­cide Hol­i­day The Pis­tol Whips, Quin­cy, Dar­cy Dork, Poached, The Jezebel Slits, Sor­cer­ers, Hood­lum Con­sta­bles, The Tips, Finnegan’s Fake and Fucked Up Tribe.

Though it’s not even close to a ful­ly record­ed song, I do know one thing: I have expe­ri­enced the new. ♦