Hi-Fi & Headphones — Crystal Wolves
by Eric Frey
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.Â
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.Â
“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.Â
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.” Â
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.Â
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 LamÃ©s, 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 StoÃŸtrupp’s Ã¼ber 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.Â
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. ♦