There are a handful of electronic artists that early consumers credit with taking the music out of the underground and into the mainstream. These movers and shakers include The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers and, of course, The Crystal Method. Launched in the early 1990s, Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland have operated as The Crystal Method for nearly 25 years.
Their albums Vegas and Tweekend served as jumping-off points and, after Jordan retired from the group in 2017, Kirkland has continued to march forward with the release of his sixth album, The Trip Home. This doesn't mean starting from scratch, of course — he still is The Crystal Method, even if it's now essentially a solo project.
In this new phase of his career, Kirkland has created a new kind of retrospective album using his past as kindling for music that tells the story of his career. Taking in old and new influences, The Crystal Method's past, present and future are heard at high volume on The Trip Home.
The Trip Home is a concept album, created to be listened to front to back. It's a journey that follows a career marked with early struggle, international success and this new chapter, which has seen The Crystal Method evolve through EDM and now pop music. Notes of inspiration from the current electronic music scene ebb and flow throughout the LP, but in place of repetitive big drops are brooding, cinematic ups and downs.
“I didn't want to make a bunch of singles,” Kirkland says. “I wanted to make an album that was something you could listen to with a beginning and a middle and an end, with a theme and a narrative and something that goes beyond all that.” Each track interplays with the others, with the intention to to create a whole new collective experience. It’s innovation at its best.
Even the attention to blending and cross-fade, like that between “Ghost in the City” and “Turbulence,” has a moving silence, all aiding the intensity of the overall sound.
“When you're making and editing music, when you're in a good flow, you're working on something but you already know four steps ahead where you're going with it,” Kirkland says. “We are making music and, hopefully, finding a way of entertaining people.”
Mixed at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys — the same place Nirvana made Nevermind and Fleetwood Mac made Rumours — The Trip Home is a fully realized offering, with vinyl not as an afterthought but a part of the album's concept as well.
Earlier this summer, Kirkland hosted an intimate listening party for his latest work at his studio in North Hollywood. It's a space where it's easy to get lost in wonder, filled with neatly arranged electronic music collectibles. For someone who came of age in the L.A. rave scene, it is a Mecca not only of engineering and production equipment but of electronic music's history through wall art and conversation. The instruments — many of them analog — have come from many places, sourced one at a time.
Those that made it onto The Trip Home include a Memory Moog and a Roland Jupiter 6, both synthesizers from the 1980s. The album’s first single, “Holy Arp,” of course, was inspired by a Crystal Method favorite, the Arp 2600 and 1604 Arp Sequencer, also known as the machines behind the voice of Star Wars’ R2D2. And while the Yamaha CS-40M prominently stands out in the studio as the first synth introduced on the group's Vegas, it didn't make the cut for the new album because of its “stubborn sound.” Right now, it's taking up space on Kirkland's desk in his studio, accented by some David Lee Roth playing cards from a rock record store in Salt Lake City and drawings by Kirkland's kids.
Making this album was not a endeavor to prove that Kirkland could succeed on his own; he set out to make it in the way he wanted to experience it himself.
“Like with a chef, you learn what someone is allergic to, you learn to cook without it,” he says, “Now I get into the studio at night and family is at home and happy in bed, the city has calmed down, and I nerd out and try to create something that I love.”
Essentially, nothing has changed. “Sometimes I play the devil's advocate or think as Ken would think, but I also started to realize, it’s like watching my mom cook — if you were to ask her for the recipe, she wouldn't have it. It's a feeling, a play as you go, knowing where your goal endpoint is.”
The creative concept behind the LP rings true in its creation as well: “It comes from memories, a place of love, enjoying the process. I've taken this opportunity to not let anything get in the way,” Kirkland says. The mantra “Be specific, don't clutter, don't just turn on something to fill the space” is quite apt.
The making of The Trip Home only underlined the importance of collaboration in Kirkland’s creative process, for it was these sessions that solidified the album's point of view as forward-thinking as well as reflective. Enlisting contemporaries such as Glenn Nichols on production and longtime collaborators Le Castle Vania and Amy Kirkpatrick on vocals, Kirkland was able to direct with specific intent far from the pop-laden features of electronic music’s latest generation. Meticulous in his creation and recordkeeping, Kirkland says each song had a lengthy evolution to get to its right place — his collaboration with producer Matt Lange took two years.
The Crystal Method has leaned into this DJ-centric phase of the rave, saying he connects with his fans most when they’re up close to the decks.
“I went through the drum 'n' bass scene and the jungle scene, the grittiness of the techno and rave scenes, where it's all about what's coming out of the speaker and raising a fist to the world and finding the camaraderie.”
The Crystal Method plays at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 19, at the Viaduct; 1799 Baker St., Chinatown.