Written by Lewis Dale
For those unfamiliar with the well over a decade long career of Alice Glass, she found fame with the glitch-electronic stylings of Crystal Castles with ex-bandmate Ethan Kath. In 2011 the band was awarded with the John Peel award for innovation, presumably for their ability to match Alice’s vocal range of, to ironically quote Wikipedia, “whispering, shouting and screaming”, with Kath’s jagged production work. She also found fame with her stage performances, with which she has been recognised as an ardent professional, striding onto the stage with broken ribs, food poisoning and crutches in order to deliver to the paying audiences. One imagines that broken bones and on stage vomiting would not hinder her vocal range, but rather accentuate it in the way that only a woman who screeches into the microphone in an extraordinary amount of pain for a living might. However, the vocalist has now decided to branch into her wildest experiment since Castles’ disbanding in 2014.
She has decided to sing.
The self-titled EP Alice Glass is a masterpiece-of-not-quite. Six tracks-long of a brave compilation of not quite glitch-heavy, not quite pulsating industrial electronica with not quite haunting screaming and singing. Over the past ten years, female solo artists have made moves the obviously unofficial title of Sub Culture Queens by force, from the fashionably witchy Fever Ray in 2009, to Grimes’ breakout album of whisperings and reverb, Visions in 2012, and FKA Twigs’ experimental R&B with the aid of producer extraordinaire, Arca. Alice Glass has existed on the peripheries of such a throne, bottle of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other. With the absence of Kath, Alice has been offered a rare chance in the music business to re-forge her identity and to single out a direction with which she may move alone. I can report that Alice Glass, if her EP suggests anything, is that she has not quite figured out the destination. In true Glass style, she flickers between moments of madness, not quite pop, not quite in-vogue production techniques, not quite brilliance, not quite repellence, and not quite properly thought-through track selections.
She stated that you can hear her voice clearly (not quite), and through the reverb soaked pitches she lays out for the listener one can hear an extraordinary amount of talent, but talent dependent on effects to reach full impact. This is not quite a bad thing, after all; with crafting a piece of artwork for mass public consumption the casual listener is not quite as interested in the journey as the destination. Her high pitched cries of “Get the fuck off of me/Get the fuck out of me” at the close of Natural Selection are a cutting and emotional plea, where the listener doesn’t quite take on the role of a voyeur into an abusive relationship, but this impact is diminished by the following track, White Lies, arguably the weakest track on the EP, where the same tone is used in the pre-chorus that’s not quite settled as well into the mix. It extinguishes any tension that Glass forces upon the consumer. What could have been an excellent creative and individual artistic expression becomes nothing but the standard for Glass’ performance, and all of a sudden it’s not quite as immediate and imperative as it once was.
Nevertheless, one is glad that Glass has gotten these six tracks off her mind. If she was to develop an album out of the same choices present in the EP, one hopes she takes her time to seriously consider each element of the record. It’s not that the EP is unlistenable, on the contrary, there are moments of that innovation award-winning sparkling through the speakers upon pressing play. It is rather a case that she needs to choose maybe one or two key elements, be that a pounding bass, ethereal industrial backdrop or her carefully chosen and poignant lyrics, and really perfect them, ultimately crafting the songs around them. Too often one is left thinking that track after track has been piled into the mix without consideration for the destination, because at least the journey may have been cathartic, noisy and true to form. It’s not necessarily make or break for Alice (and even if it was her career is testament to getting the most out of what is broken, be that limbs, friendships or mental state), but it’s also difficult to imagine her clawing back any sense of relevance given her time away from the mic.
Am I confident she will do this? Not quite.