Thursday, May 14, 2009

Album of the Week: Crocodiles "Summer of Hate"

I have an atrocious memory. To the point where I frequently regret my extra-curricular college activities. I can't ever remember names and usually not faces. I often forget what I'm saying mid-sentence and have to write every single idea I have down, for not doing so will result in losing it to the unreachable ether of my subconscious.

However, I almost always remember where I bought every single cd in my collection. Weird, huh. Some are boring memories, some are funny, like the time in high school
when my then-best friend and I drove up to Chicago to buy the just released Weezer (Blue) album, but since there was no cd player in his car, we pretended to put it to our ears and listen to it.

The Crocodiles Summer of Hate album is another story I'll remember. For weeks I'd been barging into Music Saves, demanding to know if they'd received the new Crocodiles album, but since it wasn't to come out until April 28th, the answer was always, "No." Then it was "Dude ... no." Then, "DUDE." As in, quit asking us in such a ridiculous way.

And then one day, I walked in and the nice lady behind the counter says, "Oh, you ... here" and hands me a copy. I don't often smile in public (it makes me feel stupid and also wonder if I have anything stuck in my teeth or if they are really yellow or something), but I couldn't help it.

I've been listening to it ever since, and only the recent acquisition of the new Cheval Sombre album has broken it from its go-to status as default cd to grab when starting my car. I plan to make a mass album purchase this weekend, though, so it will probably lose my attention until the dust clears, which is why I'm writing about it here, today, in the inaugural "Album of the Week" post.

Crocodiles is (are?) a San Diego-based duo, a pair of fellows with the prestigious names of Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell. According to my internet sleuthing, one of them is a private special needs school substitute teacher and the other a baker, and together they have made a grand album. Though Summer of Hate is the first LP under the Crocodiles tag, the pair have been making music together for about a decade, something they consider the perfect antidote to the otherwise boring SD lifestyle.

Summer of Hate was ripped in a pretty mean-spirited, junior high kind of way by Pitchfork writer Joe Colly, a hypocritical savaging of such note that it started a minor skirmish between bloggers and the Pitchfork colossus (again, as if much kindling is ever needed to start that blaze anew). In a nutshell, Colly's beef was that the record ripped off and only ripped off Jesus & Mary Chain and that, since other blogs "broke" the band, this was not good. I don't think the band "photocopied" JAMC, as Colly suggests, and the rest is kneecapping nonsense.

Needless to say, I disagree with the tone of the P4K review, as well as the overall score, but everyone has the right to write what they feel, right? Even still, Colly's dickish douchery was such that I almost want to start name-checking review authors and skipping the ones he pens. Un/Fortunately, I have the aforementioned memory problem and will like forget the dude's name, if not the entire incident, before lunch today.

The album, though, will stay with me. It begins with "Screaming Chrome," a brief interlude that sounds like Abe Vigoda playing a church organ tithing processional, and leads directly into "I Wanna Kill," the poppiest track on the album, and the one I think is the second-best (after the title track). It introduces that characteristic second-hand, fuzz-laden vocals that will accompany you throughout the rest of the album. The song's chorus, "I-I wanna kill tonight, I wanna kill toni-ight" is the most uplifting promise of homicide since Warren Zevon's "Dance or I'll kill ya!" epithet at his famous concert back forever ago. (RIP, by the way, Warren.)

Next up is "Soft Skull," a Casbahian funk, followed by "Here Comes the Sky," where the band slows things down considerably, with the feedback overlaying a great girl-group doo-wop ballad, and "Refuse Angels," a quick, muddled, and ultimately unremarkable track buried in the middle of the disc.

Things take a dramatic turn, however, with "Flash of Light," a track totally different, one that somehow makes me think of grungy zydeco and Tom Waits, though neither are probably influences. Still, this is a song I'd love to cover, slowing it down, muddying it up, fucking with the vocals. If plagiarism is a form of flattery, I'd flatter the shit out of this song. The last 1:15 of it I might not, though, as it is reminiscent of end-of-show live guitar tomfoolery, when the lead just leaves his guitar laying face down, buzzing and tweaking till the tech comes out to shut it off.

Next up is "Sleeping with the Lord," another slow one, with lazy vocals that are difficult to hear. So much so, it reminds me of other recent releases by bands such as Vivian Girls and Wavves, where the fuzz is such a pre-planned part of the act that it makes me wonder what it would all sound like without the distortion. This is not a good thought. However, unlike most of the tracks of both those bands' recent efforts, there is a lot of "there" there on this one - Welchez & Rowell are good hook-masters and would sound fine (I think) without the distortion, but just seem to dig the gazery of it all. That's cool. I can dig it, too.

Which brings us to the high point of the record ... the title track. "Summer of Hate" deserves the honor, for sure. This is the most patient, best structured song on the album, with driving drums that manage not to get in the way or steal the forefront, simple repititive guitar, and nicely laid down vocal tracks. This song has Echo and the Bunnymen all over it (maybe even some Beta Band, too), which makes sense given the band's name, even if they swear it wasn't the namesake.

The album is finished off by the longest song of the record, Young Drugs, which clocks in at 7 minutes and 12 seconds. As the time would seem to suggest, the track is indulgent, but in a good way. Crocodiles really get into their jam, slowing things down and exploring the lyrics and structure of the song and ending it in a way that has you listening and waiting for the next one, which doesn't come. There is LOTS of JAMC influence in this one (influence, not photocopying - you hear me Colly?), and it is lovely. And then it is done.

So, how do I score this? Unless an aggregation of multiple reviews or anchored in some other clearly stipulated logic, I find the numerical method a bit ridiculous. I mean, what is the rubric? And my default scoring mechanism (i.e., A,B,C,D,F) would just be contrived. Hoping to avoid Colly-esque allegations of photocopying myself, I don't just want to "borrow" the Sound Opinions "Buy It/Burn It/Trash It" ranking system, though I like it. So ... I'll tweak it. Which is flattery, right? Anyway, from here on out, I'll rank my albums as one of the following four catagories:

- Get your ass to the fucking record store immediately and buy this shit before the Smithsonian requisitions all copies as cultural artifacts of awesomeness.
- Buy it new next time you hit up the record store.
- Buy it used next time you see it in the salvage bin.
- Steal it. From the internet, from your friends, from the big box retailers, whatever. Just don't pay for it.
- Forget it. Erase that sonic shit from your mind.
- Fuck you for making this, band to be named later.

You probably get the rank-ordering of quality in this method, right? Good.

Given all that, I gotta say the Crocodiles debut LP is a "Buy it new" album. I dig it, I think it is among the catchiest and most dynamic of the buzz-receiving lo-fi releases thus far in the 2009 cohort, and it comes from a good label doing interesting things (Fat Possum). Will it make my next Quarterly Music Report, come late June? Who knows? But I'll tell you this, I don't have any plans on trading it in any time soon.

What I DO have plans for, though, is catching Crocodiles live this summer. And fortunately, they'll be in Clevo at least twice, including an upcoming show with Holy Fuck at the Grog Shop on May 28th. This show ... I cannot wait. See you there! In the meantime, have your appetite whetted with the video below, borrowed from a youtubed performance last month.


catdirt said...

great review. they are nice guys in person. look forward to reading your review of the show in cleveland... saw them open for spectrum in san diego on monday (after seeing their first show, second show, etc) and the live act has gotten really good. enjoy

CB said...

Thanks, dude. Yeah, I'm looking forward to the show. I think they'll bring it - the videos of their live performances I've seen are pretty great.