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Crocodiles

Crimes of Passion

(Frenchkiss; US: 20 Aug 2013; UK: 19 Aug 2013)

A fuzzy, reverb-heavy trip down memory lane

Crocodiles are a noise-pop band out of San Diego who hide their candy-sweet confections under swathes of distortion and reverb, leavening the mix with a touch of sinister punk attitude and serving up the whole affair in readily digestible, three-minute nuggets. If it’s not the most original formula in the world, it’s nonetheless a pretty effective one, as these tunes prove to be satisfyingly earworm-y, at least while you’re listening to them. Admittedly, they’re a bit like cotton candy too—they don’t leave you with much when you’re finished other than an aftertaste of lingering sweetness.


Opening track “I Like It in the Dark” lays out the template with its rolling, easygoing rhythm, layered keyboards and guitars, pulsing bassline, and heavily reverbed vocals. The adenoidal voice of Brandon Welchez adds to the raw, unpolished tone, but there’s plenty of polish on display if you listen closely—the carefully orchestrated layers of sound are calculated to give the impression of barely-controlled mayhem, but to be honest, there’s not a whole lot of mayhem to be found.


The same can be said for the rest of the album. The band reels off a string of tasty pop nuggets—“Marquis de Sade”, “Heavy Metal Clouds”, “Teardrop Guitar”—built around hummable melodies and a classic-rock mix of twangy guitar and pulsing rhythms that will be familiar to anyone who has listened to rock and roll any time over the past, oh, 50 years or so. There is a heavily retro vibe here, manifested in the guitar sounds and vocal stylings, and a more general sense of familiarity as well. Occasional studio touches, like the echoed vocals in “Teardrop Guitar”, don’t disorient the listener so much as assure him/her that yes, all the familiar tricks are here, and the band knows how to use them.


Meanwhile, that punk sensibility mentioned earlier only shows up in fleeting moments, though song titles like “Me and My Machine Gun” and “Gimme Some Annihilation” might lead the listener to expect something more. But such hints at such a darker, snottier attitude are a veneer at best, and at worst, a pose. The pop sensibility—part surf music, part dance party circa 1966—remains intact throughout the record. There’s nothing wrong with having a good time, of course, and clearly the band wants you to do just that. There’s a bit of dissonance, though, between that impulse and some of the band’s wannabe-edgier leanings.


The band does display its harder garage-rock chops in “Cockroach”, the most compelling tune here with its snarling, discordant guitars and stabbing farfisa accents, and “Virgin”, which is nicely served by vocals that simultaneously channel resignation and defiance. Such interludes, although rare, are indeed welcome amidst all the day-glo pop bubbles.


Then again, the day-glo pop bubbles are rather the point. Crimes of Passion is, ultimately, a record designed to be as comfortable as an old flannel shirt. In this it succeeds admirably. The album is diverting, pleasant, and completely undemanding; it’s the perfect soundtrack to a sunny afternoon or a road trip down the highway.

Rating:

DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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Crocodiles - "Cockroach"
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