Tucked away beyond the food trucks and noise of the Toole Avenue Art Walk (TAART Walk) was the debut performance of Crystal Radio, the latest musical experiment of Blind Divine's Paula Valencia and Daniel Martin Diaz. The atmosphere was austere but not suffocatingly so, and the real stars of the show were not the musicians.
First, there were the ghosts that Valencia explained inspired Crystal Radio's songs, and then there was the Crystal Radio itself - a custom made theremin-like synthesizer designed to tangibly conjure up these ghosts. If this sounds like heady stuff, it didn't play out that way. At its core the music was leisurely paced jazz and chalky folk, like something that might appear on an album by This Mortal Coil, the '80s 4AD Records super group who specialized in covers by the likes of Tim Buckley or Leonard Cohen. As with both Tim Buckley and the 4AD roster at that time, Crystal Radio prefer feel over form, the sound of sighs chipping away at structure. In and of themselves, the individual songs were all truly gorgeous, shimmering and glistening, echoing against the noises each instrument made. Valencia's voice waded a few steps behind Diaz' treated guitar and piano playing. The Crystal Radio itself came out a few times, presumably articulating otherworldly experiences. Less frightening than I would have preferred, but the sounds this machine makes—as it's designed to be uncontrollably random—are certainly evocative of some unseen presence. On these ambient pieces Diaz sounded like he was playing a guitar factory.
There's a subtle difference between pretension and ambition in execution, but a universe in theory. Valencia and Diaz both know this. By keeping the mood light and intimate, listeners could buy into or disregard the existence of spirits, and just enjoy the beauty of the music itself. Stripped down and soulful, it was a complete turnaround from Blind Divine's standard shoegaze wailing wall. The only thing left was the guts and the essence; or, as they named it, the Crystal Radio.