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Crystal Castles End An Era With Amnesty (I)

What does it mean to replace former singer Alice Glass?

For nearly a decade, Ethan Kath and Alice Glass were Crystal Castles, the Canadian duo whose spooky electronic music haunted blog and witch houses alike. But two years ago, Glass — the band's enigmatic singer and songwriter — abruptly left. “My art and my self-expression in any form has always been an attempt towards sincerity, honesty, and empathy for others,” she wrote in a 2014 Facebook post that also identified the end of the band. “For a multitude of reasons both professional and personal I no longer feel that this is possible within CC.” Kath shot back, “It should be rewarding for her considering she didn't appear on Crystal Castles' best known songs,” before retracting his statement and wishing Glass the best.

But Crystal Castles isn't dead. Its corpse has lately been reanimated with a new lead singer, the 21-year-old Edith Frances, and their new album, Amnesty (I), is a stab at proving that the project can thrive without Glass. The title seems meant in part to signal a new beginning after the trilogy of 2008's Crystal Castles, 2010's Crystal Castles II, and 2012's (III). Throughout the record, though, they build from right where (III) left off, with Kath doing little to reinvent the band's sound. The album jumps from wall-of-noise bangers like the bass-dropping, industrial “Enth” and “Concrete” to easygoing electro-pop sounds like the glitchy trap production of “Ornament” and the gothic music-box synth melody of “Char.” At times, Frances can sound like she's trying to imitate Glass's vocals; listen to the frayed, high-pitched shrieks on “Enth” or the earsplitting wails on “Concrete” and you might be momentarily tricked. But for a great portion of Amnesty (I), Frances sounds sweet where Glass was often intimidatingly intense. Her vocals are surprisingly normal within the winding, cursed halls of Crystal Castles. “I love your, I love your ambiguity,” Frances sings in monotone on “Fleece,” before her voice rises again in the background, shouting obscurely under Kath's fuzzy noise. Elsewhere, on “Sadist,” she sings quietly, “You'll be fine, you'll be fine, life without conscience, the disdain is just consequence.” There's a different, softer energy to Frances's performance as the lead vocalist in Crystal Castles, and even against Kath's flares of intense production, her voice stays pretty. Paired with her lyrics, which are a far cry from the politically charged darkness of (III), and Amnesty (I)'s penchant for ethereal, downtempo beats, the record feels like the most accessible, subdued version of Crystal Castles yet.

Crystal Castles aren't some basement project from the late ’00s anymore. In the past 10 years, they've become a bona fide festival band, playing Lollapalooza, Reading, Coachella, and more. Through most of that time, their sound kept expanding, with songs like “Telepath” and “Affection” from (III) feeling like they'd be perfect for huge crowds to bob along to, just in time for the rise of EDM as a major commercial force. Dance music today is a bro-filled industry where women are continually underrepresented at festivals and producers like Calvin Harris, Disclosure, and David Guetta move female vocalists in and out of tracks like pieces on a conveyer belt.

All the while, Alice Glass was there — on the fringe, sure, but still there — at enormous festivals around the world, scaling speakers, hitting fans with her microphone, sweaty and screaming. A sweet-voiced young singer just here to lend a voice, she was not. As frontwoman of Crystal Castles, Glass was ultimately an emblem for not just female agency in electronic music but also female weirdness, a punk-rock energy that surfaced above mainstream dance music's increasingly saccharine and expensive landscape. And even if Edith Frances can replicate Glass's moves, she's mimicking a presence that Glass built for the band. In doing so, Frances and Kath are, intentionally or not, reaffirming ideas about how invisible and replaceable women in electronic music can be.

Heard in that context, it's clearer still that Amnesty (I) is devoid of the kind of DIY weirdness that Crystal Castles once possessed. Alice Glass's departure now seems like only a step in the band's larger transformation into a fully commercialized, sadly predictable dance act. Crystal Castles can live on forever as they exist now if they'd like, but it's going to be a lackluster eternity.