September 22, 2010

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Douglas Martin’s birthday is in less than two weeks. Someone should buy him a leather jacket and sunglasses he can wear at night.

Crocodiles remained a small band for as long as they could.

Until recently, the LA-via-San Diego band were just a two piece, using only one voice, one drum machine, one guitar, and one-hundred effects pedals to record their late-80’s noise-rock-influenced jams. Summer of Hate was a gloriously loud one trick pony that ably copped the style of early-period Jason Pierce and few others. But if you subscribe to the Douglas Martin School of Thought, where it’s written that not enough bands rip off Spacemen 3, this shouldn’t have harmed your enjoyment of Crocodiles’ debut record. Somewhere along the line, their profile increased significantly– despite the fact that frontman Brandon Welchez is probably better known by indie-rock snobs as Mr. Dee Dee Dum— which caused the band to expand their lineup and chase a more accessible sound.

Sleep Forever‘s first single and title track was indicative of their career ambitions, for better or worse. Everything sounded bigger, more skyward, ready for their big close-up. I mentioned their skuzzy cool had been somewhat scrubbed away, that there was something lost in their transition to hi-fi. The rest of Sleep Forever finds the band still in their leather-jacket-and-sunglasses-at-night-cool pose, albeit they seem to be posing for cameras that take far glossier photos now.

“Mirrors”, in its five-and-a-half minutes of woozy whammy bar work and driving percussion, opens the album with a distinct krautrock vibe no doubt inspired by Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford, the producer of this record and that of your favorite NME Flash in the Pan of the Week. Ford’s fingerprints can be found throughout the record, at times bringing the Madchester sound into the fold. While rendering the guitars and keyboards blurry and crystalline at the exact same time, giving Sleep Forever the same shoegaze treatment Geoff Barrow gave The Horrors on their last album, Ford attempts to make the record sound both bigger and weirder than its predecessor.

But this is Crocodiles’ record to win or lose, and they mostly play it safe by trying to keep up with the Joneses of the current indie-rock scene. There is the smeary dream-pop song (“Girl in Black”), the dark garage stomper (“Billy Speed”), the song that sounds almost exactly like the lead single (“Stoned to Death”), and the glockenspiel-assisted surf-rock ditty (“Hearts of Love”). As one-note as Summer of Hate was, its ultimate appeal was that it sounded like two guys playing only for themselves, hashing out grimy guitar tunes in dive bars and storage garages doubling as practice spaces. Here, they sound like they’re writing songs to get a good opening gig for a Pitchfork darling.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Sleep Forever is a total sell-out move, though; album highlight “Hollow Hollow Eyes” dials back to their Summer of Hate days, led by shrill guitars and a swagger most of their pretending-to-not-give-a-shit peers are too scared to even graze. The record is bookended by “All My Hate and My Hexes Are for You”, 4 ¾ minutes of tension that is never resolved, underscored by simplistic drum machine and two chords of midrange organ that is more subtle than anything the band has previously tried. Featuring Welchez at his most diaphanous, he intones the song’s title repeatedly in a wounded voice, proving that threats are far more threatening when the person making them is sitting still instead of thrashing about.

On “Mirrors”, Welchez sings, “There’s something in the way you crucify me/That makes me smile.” While that could come across as a message to his doubters, Sleep Forever ultimately falls short of the mark simply because it feels as though the opposite is true; it feels like he and his bandmates want more people to like them, like they took off their sunglasses at night so they could see how people are looking at them.

Download:
MP3: Crocodiles-“Hollow Hollow Eyes”

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