Alice Glass Breaks The Spell 

The former Crystal Castles frontwoman’s long-awaited solo album is transparent in its trauma as she begins reclaiming her own sound.

by Madeline Lines

Photo by Kyle Christensen

Alice Glass joins our Zoom call from her home in the cemetery district of California’s balmy Coachella Valley. “There’s a lot of grass, a lot of water wasted,” she says. It seems natural that an artist like Glass — whose solo career has often been a cathartic release of her trauma, punctuated with blood-curdling screams and horror aesthetics — would be drawn to the deadest part of the desert. Living in the land of sun-kissed headstones, not far from where her former band took the stage at Coachella 2017 with a lookalike replacement after her departure, Glass isn’t in the business of putting her demons to rest. Instead, she’s becoming neighbourly with them. “I don’t think I’ll ever be this strong person who has completely healed from everything and remained untouched,” says Glass. “It’s going to be something that has made me who I am — maybe not for the better!”

No longer the icy, enigmatic queen of electronic duo Crystal Castles, Glass speaks her mind. After all, since leaving the group in 2014 and penning a statement about her former bandmate Ethan Kath nearly five years ago, she’s cracked her life open for all to see. The statement alleged years of emotional, sexual, and physical abuse, which Kath (real name Claudio Palmieri) was quick to deny, launching a defamation suit that was dismissed. Outlined with as much gruesome detail as the statement itself, PREY//IV, Glass’ heavily anticipated debut solo album, is crystal-clear in its depiction of abuse. There’s still some of her signature glitchy sound, but Glass’ vocals are no longer obscured as her powerful words storm to the forefront. Years later, Glass finally has the freedom to ditch her mysterious persona and break the spell of Crystal Castles.

Since 2017’s self-titled EP, her voice — both literally and figuratively — has been sharpening. Lyrics like, “Don’t talk to your friends/don’t talk to your family/don’t tell anyone/you’re not worth believing,” off “Pinned Beneath Limbs” are uncomfortably pointed. “There was kind of a rule of no first-person perspective,” says Glass of her old group. “I was a little bit afraid to write more personal music, but that’s the kind of music I have connected with when I’m sad.”

That Glass’ voice is emanating from a purple-and-white screensaver of a forest, her Zoom camera off, could also be a middle-finger in the face of her old band’s rules. The singer has often said that Kath pressured her to maintain a carefully-curated “cool girl” image, ridiculing her when she didn’t look or act the part. For a long time she was absent from or silent in many interviews, seemingly against her wishes. Now, when she chats with me, it’s candid and conversational. There’s no one telling her what to say, no PR person on the call. Glass speaks openly, powered by “feminine rage” and a desire for a world where victims, not abusers, are heard. “This record is not for everyone. I don’t want everyone to get it,” says Glass. “If you prey on vulnerable people, this record is not for you. It’s about you.”

The title PREY//IV, itself a nod to her former band’s numbered album titles and her departure after the album (III), reclaims more than just that. The album cover, a close-up of Glass with a milky, dead eye, the right side of her face crumbling, vaguely mirrors the black-eyed Madonna image that Crystal Castles used for years. A fan edit, which Glass re-shared on Twitter, superimposes the two. Kath got to keep the name and narrative of their beloved band, but Glass still asserts authorship. At the same time, Glass is over the arguments about who was the lifeblood of her old duo. She wants to move on. In December, she tweeted: “Crystal Castles was. ALICE GLASS is.”

Who, then, is Alice Glass? She hasn’t had much of her life to figure that out. Glass was born Margaret Osborn, raised in a Catholic household in the GTA. She remembers spending a lot of time alone growing up, crying to songs off the legendary MuchMusic rock and pop-punk compilation series Big Shiny Tunes. “I did not have a great childhood,” Glass says. She moved out when she was 14, coming up in Toronto’s punk scene and heading the band Fetus Fatale while still managing to attend school. It was around this time that Kath came into her life. “I’d seen him on MuchMusic and I kind of looked up to him a little bit,” she says. He convinced her to drop out of high school on the edge of graduation to go on tour. With a decade of age difference between them, the band was founded on a power imbalance. 

A handful of songs off PREY//IV invert this dynamic in a playful and poignant way. Glass takes the perspective of the abuser in “Fair Game,” turning the biting remark, “Where would you be without me?” into a danceable refrain. At first, she says, she had fun crafting a song out of all the hurtful remarks seared into her brain from over the years. Turning them into a catchy melody  knocked the wind out of them, making them harmless and pathetic-sounding. But when she played the song for the first time for friends, the haunting remarks took on some of their old monstrosity. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to listen to that song ever again.’” says Glass. “I really couldn’t listen to it for like a year, but now when I listen to it I want to dance.” The whole album refuses to dress up the red flags of a toxic relationship in any lyrical frills or metaphors. Glass set out to make “a record for survivors and potential survivors” to recognize the warning signs. “If one girl can avoid being in a really bad situation because they heard about what happened to me, then that really makes me feel like I’m here for a reason,” says Glass.

There’s an unavoidable contradiction at the heart of PREY//IV and Glass’ solo career. At the same time she expresses the desire to move past her association with Crystal Castles, Glass has lingering trauma to process. As a musician, crafting a solo album on her own record-label has been the ultimate catharsis. Glass is bleeding out old wounds that run deep, and expects to be drawing blood for albums to come. “It was a pretty dark period for me,” Glass says. “To be honest, a lot of my life has been a dark period… I can hear it now though, so I think that’s a good sign.”

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