Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s selection, featured on the Afternoon Show with Kevin Cole, is “Shake the Shackles” by Crystal Stilts from the 2011 album In Love With Oblivion on Slumberland.
Brooklyn noise pop outfit Crystal Stilts was formed in 2003 by Brad Hargett and JB Townsend. After a single and an EP, the duo expanded their lineup to five members, adding keyboardist Kyle Forester, bassist Andy Adler, and drummer Keegan Cooke, which solidified their sound. Driven by influences like Interpol and Joy Division, the band fuses 80’s pop with minimalist garage rock into hook-filled songs that seem transplanted from the post-punk heyday of the late 70’s.
Lead vocalist Hargett croons in a tone-wary baritone, often hidden behind fuzzed out instrumentation. But you don’t need to make out the words to be hypnotized by his glum, dark intonations. His voice becomes merely another instrument in the Stilts’ arsenal, a familiar rope to cling to as they lower you into their dissonant sonic abyss. Borrowing the heartfelt strums and upbeat-yet-melancholic tone of The Smiths, Crystal Stilts’ debut was met with strong critical acclaim.
Like labelmates The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, the band has expanded their sonic palette for their 2011 record, In Love With Oblivion, filling out their sound with a touch of more production. This isn’t an abandonment of the lo-fi aesthetic that made their first album great but rather a refinement; and it’s ultimately an improvement. “Shake the Shackles” is best representative of this evolution, a four-minute summery jam that breezes by, but not without leaving a distinct reminder of its passage.
Still not convinced? Here’s the video for another track from the album, “Through the Floor”: