In a review of Alight of Night, Crystal Stilts’ 2008 debut for Slumberland, I made a quip about how singer Brad Hargett sounded like Ian Curtis post-lobotomy. It was a mostly positive review, mind you, but the band’s refusal to break character from bored and detached, augmented by aggressively lethargic live shoes, tiptoed on infuriating. Subtract the tension, or even Curtis’ dance, from Joy Division, and we probably wouldn’t still be obsessing over them.
Over the last three years, signs of life have popped up on the Stilts follow-up work (including their largely overlooked LP this spring, In Love With Oblivion) and now culminates in a near perfect five-track package with Radiant Door. While their sound still favors swaddled blacks and grays to a rainbow-hued prism of pop — keeping with tradition, two of the five tracks include the words “night” and “dark” right there in the title — it’s straight-up one of the catchiest assortment of songs I’ve heard this year. A twangy, seedy rhythm section rises to prominence on “Still as the Night” to check the tone halfway through (just like New Order), the synth work on “Low Profile” pines (like New Order’s), the kick drum on closer “Frost Inside the Asylum” goes for the heart, and lead track “Dark Eyes” is almost joyful. The overall mood, though, is still very much associated with seedy underbellies and haunted thoughts. The album’s atmosphere begins as a leak and grows to infiltrate an entire room — an interesting juxtaposition to those danceable melodies. Radiant Door is still infuriating, but this time because the band beckons, pulls and tugs at emotions, not because they’re on the verge of falling asleep.
Radiant Door is out next week via always reliable, Williamsburg-based Sacred Bones Records. We suggest listening to it below, then going to a record store, taking out your wallet, and handing the cashier some money in exchange for it (and/or seeing Crystal Stilts at the Knitting Factory on December 9).