Part of me wants to call this Crystal Stilts' pop move and the rest is giggling its ass off at the very idea. The Brooklyn quintet's second full album doesn't cover much territory that their previous work hadn't. But from the time JB Townsend's Duane Eddy-like guitar lick of "Sycamore Tree" bounds into earshot, In Love with Oblivion is palpably catchier, more upbeat and lighter of tone than anything Crystal Stilts have recorded before. Brad Hargett's vocals are still lachrymose — that's his thing — but he sounds like he's enjoying his role rather than simply mumbling his way through a part, as he sometimes could before. Even a long drone like "Alien Rivers" hums and surges; it's a genuine surprise to discover that the track lasts nearly seven-and-a-half minutes.
Oblivion isn't a lo-fi album, exactly — it's more like an expert simulacrum of lo-fi. Old fans needn't worry: Mysterioso crud is still the crux of the Crystal Stilts sound. But the production, by Townsend (and engineer Gary Olson), keeps the droning quality of old while expanding sonically in a few directions. There's a comfortable spaciousness that belies the group's earlier, more cramped sonics: The way Kyle Forester's organ threads through Andy Adler's antic bass and Townsend's anxiously chiming riffs on "Half a Moon" evokes a carnival at twilight, while "Through the Floor" is straight-up Phil Spector Wall of Sound homage that works even better for coming out of the speakers as if from a different room. (That's true on headphones, too.) Based on Townsend's work here, he'll probably be able to hire himself as a producer for other bands of this ilk for a good while. But the way his confident riffs lead his ever-tightening bandmates, it seems safe to imagine that he isn't going anywhere for a while yet.