Guitaro's JJ’s Crystal Palace is a good kind of shock

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JJ’s Crystal Palace (Helpcomputer)

Guitaro released one of the best, albeit possibly one of the most underpromoted and overlooked, local albums of 2002. It was called Futura Black, and it found the band reviving the U.K. shoegazer sound of a decade or so before. And while a lot of other acts were doing the same, Guitaro’s unique spin on it was to add blisteringly heavy distorted guitar to its lush vocal layers and swirling ambiance.

It was an impressively accomplished debut, but then Guitaro faded into the background as singer-guitarist and all-around sonic architect Mark Wiebe focused on other things, such as producing chilled-out downtempo music as Sinewave and making electro-rock under the Markattack moniker. Now, eight years after Futura Black, Guitaro has released a follow-up. Rather than returning to the swoon-metal aesthetic of its debut, though, the trio—which also includes Heather Warkentin and Jeremy Unrau splitting various duties—has somehow interwoven the styles of Wiebe’s other projects into its sound.

JJ’s Crystal Palace sounds a little like Guitaro circa ’02, but not much. You only need to listen to “Truth Hertz” to hear that the gorgeous vocal harmonies are intact, but the electro-disco grooves of “Hill Mountain” and “Come Get Sums”, and the liberal use of vocoder on the sad-robot lament “2085”, will be a shock to anyone expecting Futura Black 2.

But it’s a good kind of shock, because the second Guitaro record is a lot like the first in all the ways that matter. It’s the sound of prodigiously talented musicians mashing genres up in new and unexpected ways and creating some great songs in the process.

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