Alice Glass – PREY//IV

A varied, visceral dissection of trauma…

It’s almost impossible to listen to Alice Glass’ solo debut without certain expectations – not only musical expectations, but personal ones, in a way that can hardly be entirely helpful even if they’re well-intentioned. In 2014, Glass left the hugely innovative group Crystal Castles which she’d formed with Ethan Kath, and three years later accused him of prolonged abuse throughout the time she’d known him. Other women came forward with similar claims, and the Toronto police confirmed in December 2017 that Kath was under investigation.

But even if those allegations had never been made public, 'PREY//IV' still clearly announces itself as an album about trauma. Over 13 tracks, Glass dissects her experiences from every angle: she sounds alternately enraged, broken, contemptuous, and often surprisingly matter of fact, marking these changes in tone with virtuosic shifts in her vocal performances. In Crystal Castles her voice was frequently semi-audible, buried under distortion and strange effects (including, famously, video game bleeps ripped from an Atari 5200). Here, though, the vocals take a front seat, exposing us not only to the extreme imagery of Glass’ lyrics but to the extreme variation of her delivery.

Nowhere is this more evident than in 'THE HUNTED', where she screams “Watch the hunter be the hunted!” before swooping down to a breathy sigh, confident and unerring. But these polarised lurches can be found all over the album, informing every decision in creatively productive ways. 'LOVE IS VIOLENCE' sets off its fat bass growls and knife-like synths with gaps of vertiginous silence; 'EVERYBODY ELSE' juxtaposes the sound of a music box with imagery of sexual violence (“Tie up my wrists like I’m nothing”); 'ANIMOSITY' doesn’t even stay put for the time it takes to sing the chorus, as Glass howls, then almost whispers, then howls again across three lines.

The effect is to draw attention not only to her voice, but to what she’s using it to say, literally or otherwise. Like Manic Street Preachers’ 'The Holy Bible' or Nick Cave’s 'Skeleton Tree', 'PREY//IV' is not simply music to listen to: it’s an attempt to communicate genuine pain in ways that simply aren’t possible through a written statement posted online. Little surprise, then, that the lyrics go for the jugular on occasion (“You taste like rotten meat”; “Are you picturing my insides outside of me?”).

However, they’re at their most effective when their visceral imagery gives way to narratives of coercion and control, as it does on 'FAIR GAME'. It’s no coincidence that 'FAIR GAME' falls slap bang in the middle of 'PREY//IV', as it's the album’s heart and ambiguous fulcrum, a withering put-down built around the question “Where would you be without me?” That question has echoes of Glass’ allegations: according to her, Kath “often told me how replaceable I was”, and “that all the people that came to our shows were only interested in his instrumentals and that I was ruining the band”. Sung by Glass, though, the words take on a new meaning. Her rebirth as a solo artist has taken almost a decade, but it shows how central she was to Crystal Castles’ success, and how little she needs anyone else to create thrilling music.


Words: Tom Kingsley

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