This duo provides a heady, garage-influenced take on surf rock that's heavy on aesthetic pleasures, but sadly light on songwriting heft.
There is a time and a place for reverb. One of the simplest recording tricks out there, it seemed as if the technique was hammered to death a few years ago when every indie band began drowning their recordings in the stuff. Drums, guitars, and vocals were all covered in a thick, reverberating wash. It didn’t matter what kind of music you were playing, either; even supposed hardcore and pop-punk bands were dabbling too heavily in reverb, robbing their music of precious urgency. Credit, then, should be given to Crushed Out for sticking to the kind of music that actually benefits from a light, reverb-heavy sound. In fact, Alien Ocean is a surf-rock record through and through, albeit one informed by musical trends that occurred after the early '60s. Still, the album works on an aesthetic level. As for its songs, well, that’s another story.
For the most part, Crushed Out emphasizes the “rock” aspect of surf-rock, so Alien Ocean is surprisingly muscular, pulling from hard rock tropes as well as watery, surf-friendly stuff. Songs like “Love Howl” and “Big Wooly” move with the gusto and swagger of a garage-rock band while avoiding the pitfalls that would turn them into a cock-rock cliché. Some of that could perhaps be chalked up to the nature of the collaboration here; after all, cock-rock isn’t necessarily a good look for a married couple. But these two know how to rock, and if “Cool Clear Water” is any indication, they also know how to work when taking things down a few decibels. In theory, then, Alien Ocean could be called a reasonable success, but there’s still something missing.
As skilled as Crushed Out are at playing this kind of music, Alien Ocean indicates that they still have a ways to go when it comes to composing said music. Too often, the songs on the LP appear to be formless, lacking any lasting impact. Nothing on here is especially bad (though the sludgy opener “Out of the Blue” comes close), but nothing on here is especially meaningful or memorable, either. Lyrically, the group doesn’t necessarily strive for depth—which isn’t necessarily bad—but that depth isn’t compensated in any way by the band’s arrangements or their singing, which splits time evenly between snotty and disinterested. While this all probably makes for a fun time at a live show or a party, it doesn’t make a truly impactful album. For all of the pleasures it contains, Alien Ocean offers little to take notice of afterward.
It feels a little unfair to pick on Crushed Out, though; their ambitions probably don’t rise much further than helping everyone have a good time, and there isn’t anything inherently wrong with that. And indeed, hating a record like Alien Ocean would be a waste of time and energy given that the band clearly had a good time making this record. Crushed Out are clever students of surf-rock, and Alien Ocean has its share of nautical pleasures. However, those looking for a little more from their garage-rock might be better served looking elsewhere for substance.