Crystal Antlers tend to tweak its sound on each album -- a little more so than the average rock band -- and Nothing Is Real keeps up that unsentimental growth.
The band is back down to a trio, sans bongo player, and they mostly dropped the psych rock sounds. Of course, it's still Crystal Antlers. Even with some big changes, Johnny Bell, Kevin Stuart and Andrew King can't help but sound the way they do. That's especially true for Bell, who's fantastically shredded voice blurs the difference between caring deeply and not giving a shit.
However he's selling it, it's pretty dark. The album ends with him screaming, “lost my legs and my will to live,” on “Prisoner Song.” It's also one of the only times any psych sounds make a notable appearance, along with “Don't Think of the Stone.” It could leave you pining for old Crystal Antlers.
But they're making something closer to straight-ahead rock now, though it's still plenty jagged and twisted. “Licorice Pizza” tears through two and a half minutes with a punk ferocity, while “Better Things” drags that out to four minutes. Songs like “Persephone” and “Rattlesnake” sound like they could get radio play in the hands of poppier band. But tightening up and polishing up is not Crystal Antlers' style, so guitars still shriek and the dynamics hardly shift from blow-your-ears-out.
Nothing Is Real is evidence of the cliche that the more things change, they more they stay the same, and that's just fine. It's worked well for Crystal Antlers so far.