Jonny Bell has a gullet-shredding yell that’d fit in just fine with your average Orange County hardcore outfit. But his band’s music makes it tough to imagine the guy performing anywhere near studded belts or shitty rock-club bathrooms. No, when listening to Tentacles, the debut full-length from Long Beach’s Crystal Antlers, you envision stranger places: circuses, deserts, big blue oceans, saloons—the old-timey, Wild-West kind, not the kind where you get jacked on Red Bull and mosh to Bleeding Through.
Blame organist Victor Rodriguez. He splashes the entire album with cartoon colors, starting with the video-poker headache of opener “Painless Sleep” and ending with the big-screen, M83-like space hum of “Several Tongues.” But things really get weird—and kinda sweet—when the rest of the band pile on, with guitarists Andrew King and Errol Davis turning their instruments into steam whistles, drummer Kevin Stuart bashing out somersaulting rhythms, and Bell playing spastic punk bass under his spastic punk screaming. The album’s a mess. Luckily, it’s a mess you can jump around to.
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But the band’s much buzzed-about 2008 EP suggested that Crystal Antlers could provide more than just an exotic headbanging experience. Its six songs were murkier, with the organ pushed beneath those hissing-teapot guitars. Bell growled, but he also whispered, semi-sang and occasionally hit a high note. If the members of Crystal Antlers sounded like they existed anywhere on that EP, it was in the psyche. On Tentacles, they’ve come into the light of day. That’s not so terrible, except for the glare off the organ—and the fact that it’s less fun to imagine places you can see.