Long Beach's Crystal Antlers have been steadily building up both their reputation and back catalog for a while so little surprise that there's already plenty of attention being focused on their forthcoming July release. Two-Way Mirror feels like the release of a band ready to step up and out further as a result; after having released what turned out to be Touch and Go's last ever new album, they've set up their own label and are going for broke.
There's something to how Crystal Antlers sounds that is very of its time — no criticism, merely an observation that they couldn't have quite existed in the '60s, the '80s or anywhere else in recent years. The big rollicking rumble of “Jules' Story” is at once swaggeringly anthemic and swathed in a little murk, Johnny Bell's vocals caught in massive waves of sound, an exultance in the moment.
Reuniting with their self-titled EP's producer Ikey Owens is a fine touch, perhaps bringing out more of the fluidity of the current lineup. A song like “By the Sawkill” has all the melodramatic blast one could want while its lumbering funk breaks, with Cora Foxx's organ parts to the fore, could suggest things as far back as Jimmy Smith or the Doors. Yet here it feels like a new approach, a smearing of crisp sonic divisions and inclusion of unexpected breakdowns to result in something new.
The shading strings and almost majestic descending guitar lines on “Summer Solstice” and concluding surges on “Always Afraid” are further standouts on the big-sounding tip, while when things calm down a touch, as on “Knee Deep” and the stripped down conclusion “Dog Days,” the result is suddenly calm, almost tender, Bell and Andrew King's guitar isolated.
There's a giddiness as well in Foxx's keyboard swirls sounding like sometimes demented carousel music, but the way “Sun-Bleached” pulls back into softer speak singing, a solo guitar part and warm, thick keyboard tones, all mixed in a way that would sound “wrong” to present pop-attuned ears but finding its own clear logic on its own terms, is another demonstration of how Crystal Antlers is moving from strength to strength. Whatever comes next should be a treat and a half.