[7 June 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
San Diego’s Crocodiles don’t really care to hide who they or where they come from. Their name is also the title of an Echo and the Bunnymen album, and their retro, faded album covers hint at a time that came long ago, long before the band even existed. With that idea of past and nostalgia in mind, primary players Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell coat themselves in thick, gauzy layers that feel faded and worn. They’ve tapped into this grinding throwback pop for two albums, and on their new one—Endless Flowers—things haven’t changed much.
Not that this sameness is always a bad thing. The album opens with the heady, powerful one-two punch of the title track and “Sunday (Psychic Conversation #9)”. The former mixes a wall of fuzzed-out guitars with airy keyboards to make a soaring sound that (barely) clears out so you can hear the wailing verses before they ramp up again for cascading choruses. The latter, however, buzzes just a little harder and the guitar’s deliver sharper hooks instead of wide-open groans. It’s an overcast, busy twist on surf rock—with a bending note twanging in the background—and makes it the most notable track on the record.
The band is in its wheelhouse with this kind of full-to-the-rung power-pop. “Electric Death Song” cleans up the mix a bit, but it’s still metronomic but hard struck drums under this swirling storm of guitars and keys. Later in the record, “Welcome Trouble” turns all this fuzzy dreaming into something chunked up and industrial to solid effect. In these moments, you see the band under all the influences. Though none of these textures may be new, they manage to make them unique because they don’t let them trudge. They keep the pace up, and keep their performance tight, so even if the sound seems too huge to take in, you can hear the best parts that comprise it, the striking melody of “Endless Flowers” or the razor’s-edge riffs of “Welcome Trouble”.
Unfortunately, much of the record lacks that vitality. Some songs follow the same formula: “My Surfing Lucifer” is a wobbly but still thick bed of gauze, while “Dark Alleys” churns along on Krautrock-like persistence and those buzzing guitars. Unfortunately, neither ever deliver a hook that you can latch onto and they also—“Dark Alleys” in particular—deliver wrote, often schmaltzy lyrics, so when you hear about “the dark alleys of my heart” and how “I never fall apart” there’s a sing-songy emptiness to the lines that kicks in and throws you out of the song.
When the band isn’t toeing the psych-rock line too closely, it’s branching out in strange ways that don’t really fit. If the band’s strength it its energy, songs like “Hung Up on a Flower” take a detour away from that strength. It’s a hazy attempt at balladry, something slow and narcotic to break up the propulsion of the rest of the record. But while its space is a welcome change, the slow swirl of guitars and vocals never really goes anyway, just slumps along for five minutes until it devolves into a mess of screeches and found sounds. It’s the kind of experiment that feels self-conscious, like it’s trying to change things up when really all it does is make us wish things would get back to normal. “No Black Clouds for Dee Dee” tries to pare the sound down to angular new-wave riffs that feel thin, especially after the noise of “Sunday”. “Bubblegum Trash” is the most noble of these failures, slowing the pace down only a little, trying to tap into the cool space of early-90s Brit-pop, and while the choral backing vocals are a nice shift, the band doesn’t capitalize on the moment, repeating the title over and over in the chorus too many times, making the phrase more and more grating as the song goes on.
Endless Flowers is an album that shows both the merits and pitfalls to following your influences too closely. Even if Crocodiles sound like so many bands that came before them—and so many bands now standing on the same giants’ shoulders—their flaws here aren’t ones of mimicry. The best parts of the record make space for their own personality and energy within all this thick, expanding fuzz. Unfortunately, too much of this record slows down or stops short completely, selling loud walls of sound in place of recognizable hooks and undercooked, sentimental lyrics in place of real emotion. The good stuff makes its mark and moves on, but there’s just not enough of it, and the rest of Endless Flowers feels, well, endless.