Since Crystal Antlers‘ debut, critics have been struggling to fit the band into a genre. Prog this. Psych that. Post-something. Proto-something else. The band itself tends to just go with “punk,” a typically unilluminating descriptor that, in the context of Crystal Antlers’ indefinable sound, provides more questions than answers.
What’s most telling, though, is that in a critical realm so inclined to make up new names for genres (“chillwave”?), nobody seems to have carved out any new nomenclature for Crystal Antlers. That so many have settled for just jamming their square pegs into so many round holes has a lot to do with the fact that the music Crystal Antlers makes isn’t really anything new. Two-Way Mirror, the band’s latest, mines the same territory.
Remember that first time as a kid encountering a self-serve soda fountain, how tempting it was to just mix all the different kinds together? And do you remember how mixing ginger ale with orange soda with diet cola tasted? Sometimes it’s good to have a little focus, a little restraint. Without it, you get Two-Way Mirror, which ends up sounding like less than the sum of its many, many parts.
Being eclectic isn’t inherently bad. In fact, the biggest thing holding Two-Way Mirror down is something that’s been present on just about everything Crystal Antlers have done to date. Singer Johnny Bell’s anthemic shouts are an instrument unto themselves, but lower in the mix, they play second fiddle to Andrew King’s stylistically fluid guitarwork. But as King’s techniques meander from song to song, Bell retains the same adrenal urgency for almost 35 minutes, and after hearing him cry wolf for three straight records, it’s hard to tell whether anything’s actually chasing him.
Crystal Antlers is one of those bands lauded for its live show, such that its records are often written off as insufficient documents of the energy the band brings to the stage. But the shortcomings of Two-Way Mirror aren’t that it doesn’t have enough energy. It’s that the energy runs at the same level all the time, and without any dynamism, the whole thing sort of falls flat.