In his book I Shot a Man in Reno, music journalist Graeme Thomson documents the history of death in popular music, focusing on how popular artists deal with the topic. Despite death being an age-old artistic fascination, Thomson reveals that artists rarely ever illustrate the more brutal truths about the subject, choosing instead to take a distanced view. This is not to say that such songs should be dismissed; Thomson also argues that death songs are as much a part of pop music as love songs are.
This should all be good news for Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell of Crocodiles then. Their sophomore album, Sleep Forever is morbidly fixated in that aloof way common to self-destructively inclined rock. Sleep Forever, much like the Horrors’ sophomore effort Primary Colours, largely feels like it’s been done before, but it still manages to entertain.
Sleep Forever‘s tone is set perfectly from the outset with opener “Mirrors”. Shoegaze tones from Crocodiles’ debut Summer of Hate have been carried over, but the song feels slightly more anthemic, as though the duo is now thinking about gazing to the heavens. Death is present in the opening line, “Something in the way you crucify me makes me smile,” and even more glaringly in the chorus, “I think I’m gonna die awhile / Hang on wood and try to smile.” Yet the punchiness of the music, which vaguely recalls the Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Head On”, gives the lyrics an oddly life affirming touch. It’s no mean feat, and “Mirrors” sets the bar considerably high for the remainder of the album.
After “Stoned to Death”, which sounds as druggy as the title suggests, “Hollow Hollow Eyes” announces itself with a psychedelic ‘60s skulk that becomes all the more seductive in the chorus’ pronounced keyboard line. Like Summer of Hate‘s more successful psych-rock leanings, it’s nothing new, but it suggests potential. Midway through, songs become more futile. “Girl in Black” serves as a good example of album filler and first single “Sleep Forever”—while displaying Crocodiles’ more polished, less fuzzy sound—still owes a debt to Spacemen 3 that is hard to ignore.
“Hearts of Love”, thankfully, compensates for these lulls. Picking up and improving on liveliness of “Mirrors” in confronting death, “Hearts of Love” unfolds in honey-honey sugar-pop bells and fuzz bass before bursting into a chorus of “When I die / When I disappear / Leave my bones behind.” “All My Hate and My Hexes Are for You,” follows. It’s another psych ballad, again recalling Spacemen 3, but Welchez manages to pack enough conviction into his limited vocal range that the song becomes somewhat sweet. Coming as Sleep Forever‘s closing track, it guarantees sticking the album out until the bitter end.
Someone like Graeme Thomson could complain that all the doomy subject matter on Sleep Forever fails to raise any interesting arguments about death and dying. Other detractors will say Crocodiles still sound like Spacemen 3 or the Jesus and Mary Chain or a somewhat clearer photocopy of the psychnoiseshoegazepop blueprint. Yet there are times when a photocopy can be sharp enough to leave you wholly satisfied, and ultimately this is the case with Sleep Forever.
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