“Welcome to Crystal Palace”, Alexander sings inviting “all of you dreamers”. If you accept that invitation, you will indeed feel as if sharing dreams with Alexander and Ernst. “Crystal Palace” is of an intense intimacy never reached on a “Deine Lakaien” album before
The songs are about inner conflicts, turmoil, crises but also positive developments described from a subjective point of view very unusual for this band. Less unusual is the cast of characters: Sinners, saints, angels, devils, ghosts, they all find their place in the lyrics, as well as heaven and hell —- reminiscent of the early works of Deine Lakaien just as the synthesizer based music. This is paired with song writing brought to perfection —- especially beautiful melodies, and a great variety of song structures to draw your attention. The album is very harmonious: Diverse and at the same time well balanced between electronic and acoustic elements as well as between agitated pieces and ballades. Just beautiful and strong!
“Nevermore”, the opener of the album, is a very good example for all of this. The piece starts out low-key with a rhythmic break between the stanzas that is reminiscent of the carousel music of the bridge in “The battle of the ghosts” on “1987 - the early works”. The piece reaches its first peak with the chorus, a strong and intense incantation of “Nevermore” accompanied by rich electronics and a piano module as acoustic component. The piano lingers on after the electronics has faded away and quickly resolves the tension to the low-key of the beginning. More electronic layers are added as the song evolves toward the instrumental part. This is dominated by the piano module withholding the climax that is finally reached with the chorus at the end. These elements make this powerful song a typical Lakaien piece and a well-chosen representative for the album. I would like to remark at this point that while the “all-electronic” production of “Crystal Palace” suggests strong ties to the first releases of the band, the snippet in “Nevermore” is the only one where I could find a direct relation. The aesthetics of the electronic sounds and Alexander’s vocal performance have evolved a lot since then.
The next song “Farewell” starts with a marching beat and very monotonous vocals. Remarkably, this is not contradicted by the two voices that come into play. The melodic chorus sets a nice contrast, while the instrumental part is kept simple, though Ernst could not keep himself from adding some off-beat elements. The repetition of the chorus is shifted in key at the end, creating some friction. I have to admit that, though this is a very common element in pop music, I never came to like it and thus do not really connect to this song. Nevertheless, it is very clear that this song is well received in the clubs and it was definitely a good choice for the single release. The line “Farewell, farewell my own true love” is a citation from the folk song “The house carpenter”, which Ernst mentioned to be the inspiration for the lyrics of “Those Hills” in the interview with the Sonic Seducer. Ernst’s version of this piece is about a demon lover seducing a woman to follow him and leave behind her husband and child. It is not before close to the end that she suspects the true nature of her lover. From the beginning, Ernst creates an absolute dark and scary atmosphere. Electronic ostenative motives with distorted notes and well placed dissonances trickle down the spine cold as ice despite the hot beat. At the end of the instrumental part there is an eerie sound that reminded me somewhat of the x-files and makes you hold your breath. Besides the constant change of the point of view within the lyrics, this does not have a lot in common anymore with the folk song, as you can convince yourself by listening to the beautiful interpretation by Joan Baez.
After this demonic piece, Alexander lowers his voice to a soft whisper in “Eternal Sun”. This is a quietly desperate song with a fragile hope shining up in the chorus that might just turn out to be vain. Alexander applies the same technique in “Forever And A Day”, where a gently driving rhythm makes his voice sound almost breathless. It is a typical Lakaien ballade drifting between major and minor keys just like in “Where The Winds Don’t Blow”. This song develops some folk touch due to the upward and downward quint relationships but of course, Ernst adds one or the other twist. The chorus gains intensity by being set in two voices. Already dreaming along with your faithful servants, “The Ride” is going to hit you with its sudden guitar riff. The ghosts that ride on the shoulder here remind the fan of the early works again. These unbidden guests just rock! This should be fun for Goran Trajkoski, who just joined the band for the live line-up. Some might know him from the Macedonian cult band Mizar or from the Veljanov project.
“Crystal Palace” is a song that is not really representative for the album. Nevertheless, you will have fun with it, since everybody is going to discover his or her own string of associations of the late psychedelic 1960s. In my case these were the Sitar sounds reminiscent of George Harrison and Ravi Shankar of course leading to the contemporary project of his daughter Anoushka. A nice piece is for example “Monsoon” on her album “Traces of you”, featuring her half-sister Norah Jones. Back to “Crystal palace” you will encounter a fast 4/4 chorus switching gears after the slow 6/8-beat in the stanzas. It is really a crazy piece! What does one have to smoke to combine Sitar and Cembalo sounds? Well, when I smoke that I get this vision of Alexander with flowers in his hair playing the jingle ring…The intimate privacy of the album is at least partially explained by the fact that this is the only song on the album not written in the first person. Only on the special edition you find another piece, “The Swan Song”. This one is a bit more electronic with syncopated beats accompanying the stanzas, though the Cembalo sound appears again. It is more like a fairy tale with the metamorphosis in the bridge and the deliverance in the chorus. Simply beautiful!
Should you ever threaten to drown in self-pity then the song “Why The Stars?” will most likely cure you. Someone is lamenting about himself feeling so down while all the others feel exuberant against the backdrop of music playfully rocking around. This song holds the mirror up to you, also kind of literally, since its structure is mirrored at the bridge in the center. Ernst might have powered his synthesizers with some high-octane gas here, letting them all loose. I can imagine that this could be real fun for Slobodan Kajkut, the drummer from the Porta Macedonia tour, who joined the live line-up just along with Goran Trajkoski. Around the bridge there are more contemplative parts, where you can basically follow the person down the stairs into the dark unconscious regions and up again.
I did not really notice the next song “The Lights Of Our Street” when listening to the album for the first time. Meanwhile, I consider it the most beautiful ballade of “Crystal Palace”. With its simple harmonies it is comforting and very peaceful. “A lullaby for grown-ups” Alexander called it in the track-by-track series on the group’s YouTube channel. I have to admit that I was pleasently surprised to learn that this song was composed by Alexander. (Why by all means was there no “Veljanov” album in the meantime?) Ernst added most delicate sounds, his synthesizers are purring, chortling and chirping, while picked strings and claves give the rhythm. The electronics are “breathing” just as with “normal” instruments. Really enchanting! Similarly peaceful are only the “Portuguese Trails” of the special edition. This song offers a quiet heartbeat and brings on a lovely atmosphere full of melancholic memories.
“Pilgrim” is the last song of the special edition and a must for friends of more complex music. This piece about a pilgrim in autumn has some medieval touch with its leading quarts and quints. In its heart you will find a miniature motet built up voice by voice, only to be torn apart again in the instrumental part and reassembled in a queer way. Nevertheless, the song character never gets lost. The story told in this song can be thought of as the crowning resolution of the “Reincarnation-Series”, which was put on hold for a long time now. But here again, “recurrence slumbers in decay” until “time [is] restarting the void” and the only thing left are dreams.