Label: Fat Possum
The second album from noise-pop duo Crocodiles opens with a slow, trembling hum; it’s both anticipatory and ominous, swiftly turning into feedback, synthesizers and a fast, catchy drumbeat. By the time singer Brandon Welchez’s vocals leap in at about two minutes, the stage is set for the album to come. Sleep Forever is a thing of youth, energy and a whole hell of a lot of crunchy guitars. Most of all, it’s a fine leap forward for the California pair after their auspicious but mostly unformed debut of Summer of Hate.
Welchez and longtime musical partner Charles Rowell get compared to lot of indie heroes for their music, and for good reason. While their synthesis of the Jesus and Mary Chain, Echo and the Bunnymen and Jason Pierce’s various musical efforts may not be unique enough to transcend its origins, it’s a fun and invigorating take on post-punk fuzz. From the very first lines of opening track “Mirrors-” “Something in the way you crucify me/ It makes me smile-” (a line worthy of the Brothers Reid), it’s clear they occupy the musical kind of space that’s somewhere between anger and happiness, pain and pleasure, but all of it pop.
“Stoned to Death” takes Krautrock propulsion and applies it to a swirling organ and distorted, buzzing guitars, Welchez’s vocals sounding both treated and distant. Meanwhile “Hollow Hollow Eyes” rests on screeching, melodic guitars and stabs of keyboards that sound like something of a haunted house in a grindhouse nightmare. The title track (and first single) is a strange combination of ethereally gloomy optimism; the song sounds almost romantically dire, like early middle period Cure, but lyrics like, “When he shines/ When he smiles on my face/ His clouds all seem so out of place” sound more like a chipper ’60s girl group singing about her first manic-depressive boyfriend. Similarly, the chime-filled thunder of “Hearts of Love” almost borders on the schmaltzy with a chorus of “Thank you God above/ For draining hearts of love,” but balances it with “one of these days, thoughts will turn to flowers/ And dreams will turn to dust/ And no one living would care to remember us.” That, and a killer hook.
Sleep Forever does contain a fewer quieter moments, like closer “All My Hate and My Hexes Are for You,” with its Suicide-worthy drum machines and almost hospital-like hissings and beeps. It’s a strange kind of love song, with Welchez promising the object of his devotion that, after her bones are burned to ash, he’ll “be there to burn down/That skyscraper, too.” The other slow number, “Girl In Black,” doesn’t manage as well, meandering around the same Spiritualized-style keyboard motif for over five minutes to little release or momentum. Unfortunately, it seems that Mr. Pierce is one of the few who can stretch out four notes into a psychedelic narcotic bliss these days, and he’s not sharing that claim. It’s a dull note in an otherwise thrilling record, the kind of album that can console a moment of gloom or be blasted out the windows of a car in the summertime. If this is what Crocodiles do on a second try, I’ll be waiting for the third go around.