Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
On the night of Crystal Stilts' Rock Island show and the morning after, this past December, lead singer Brad Hargett wore a V-neck sweater of a dark gray color, a lighter gray-colored collared shirt poking out from below and then black darkness from the waist down -- all emptiness as if most of his body were parts or shades of the night. It was a frosty day and a frostier evening prior to it and we were in those days when no one's been privileged enough to see the shining sun for longer than a peek at a time. It was a fitting emotion, this dread and this gloomy fever that Hargett and the rest of his Brooklyn, New York bandmates - JB Townshend, Andy Adler and Frankie Rose - conveyed in their tones and beleaguered dress, of the mope and the mumble sort. There's a retreating reaction to the way Hargett spills the ink and lukewarm blood in his songs, giving it out like an undertaker or a depressive, definitely a depressive, someone with a serious aversion to and issue with cracking much of a smile. He uses an expressive monotone that's a good tool not to wake the dead and at the same time will suitably rile the kids up enough in their tight ass jeans and tri-blend track style tee-shirts or their very own dark gray V-neck sweater, lighter gray collared shirt and darkness from the waistline down to cause sweat or a forbidden amount of amusement. Most of the time, there's nothing to go on but a guess as to what Hargett is singing, buried as his words are under thick coats of insulation and foggy, Tim Burton-feeling reverb. The way that words come out of his mouth, as if under the very cover of the night, like those bumps that sound like major explosions when everything else is mum, as the owls hunt, is as if they were scared of what they might find waiting for them. They are timid and unassuming, but they are just as capable of taking you somewhere that feels dangerously alive and poised to either give you a cold shoulder or the willies. They might push you into a cold pool, without ever having to do so - the iciness chilling you through whatever the number of layers of clothing you're wearing at the time. It's a damaged landscape, the one that the Crystal Stilts power across with their Athens, Georgia-like guitars (of the sunnier Olivia Tremor Control/Elf Power jingle and chime, oddly enough) and a percussive backbone akin to the beat of a city's shadowy, after-hours streets. It's really mostly a musical modification of the cluttered mind of a young 20-something, diabolically saddened and confused to the extreme about the vastness of the realities that are setting in or the realities that are thinking about collecting all of the string, grass and mud needed to build a nest and do so. It walks on the tame half of the wild side, getting agitated just enough to turn Hargett's closed-eyes shimmy and shuffle at the microphone stand into something that resembles an attitude. He sings about distorted time or distorting time and it applies to everything in a Crystal Stilts song - the vacant stares that seem to come out of the corners of the tune, the coolly smoking atmosphere and the smart efficiency of all of the sounds that these four come with. It gives off a feeling of trailing permanence, the kind of bloodshot exasperation and weary bones and muscles that come when all you need is rest, but the body always gets the last word. It's going to go to one more place, to see that one extra person, to get that last drink and the Crystal Stilts apply that dark and moody accomplice to all of those actions, making sure they are comfortable and warm.