Crystal Castles is a Toronto duo that specializes in a kind of electronic pop that has been distorted to the point that listening to it is sometimes physically painful. That’s exactly the way their fans like it. Alice Glass’s voice — sometimes sweet, sometimes a shrill shout — is often digitally manipulated to make her sound like a machine. Ethan Kath’s primitive synth sounds bounce along in a way that highlights their artificiality. The rhythm is kept by bursts of electronic noise that bear only a passing resemblance to drums. And everything is mixed in a way that accentuates the treble. The result is something like the soundtrack of an old Nintendo game cranked up to speaker-blowing volume levels by a sociopathic DJ.
It’s a fascinating sound, if you can take it. But the most satisfying recording Crystal Castles has made was last year’s single “Not in Love,” with vocals by Robert Smith of the Cure. The song is a cover of a minor ’80s hit by Canadian band Platinum Blonde. Crystal Castles recorded it for their second album, released last spring, with Glass singing and Kath’s keyboards bringing a dark undercurrent to the bouncy ’80s chords. Smith, with that famous ache in his voice, gives the song a new depth — the more he sings “I’m not in love,” the less you believe him. It’s the best thing he has done in years.
Will Crystal Castles pursue this kind of thing in the future, bringing vulnerability and humanity to their otherwise abrasive sound? Perhaps. In the meantime, they have a reputation for putting on a live show that’s even more confrontational than their records.
CRYSTAL CASTLES: House of Blues, Wednesday, March 2, 7 p.m. 619-299-2583. $25.