Published on BLURT – Thursday, Sept. 30, 2010
The acclaimed San Diego duo don’t need no steenkin’ compasses – just your trust in them.
BY ANNAMARYA SCACCIA
Crocodiles are one of those outfits that have amassed a lot of buzz their initial step out. Once their critically-acclaimed Fat Possum Records debut album, Summer of Hate, hit the store shelves and Infobahn last year, blogs and major media outlets were ablaze, with Rolling Stones even proclaiming them stewards of “the art-punk renaissance.” It was an ambitious and obscure first-time effort from two music veterans that, with its reverb fervor and dusky murmurs, ended up turning noise-pop on its ear.
So how does the duo – ex-The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower’s Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell – live up to that applause with their follow-up, Sleep Forever (released earlier this month on Fat Possum)? They don’t. Instead, they reach beyond it, hoping that their latest alms “eclipses” the first.
“Like with anything Brandon and I do, I’m only interested in what we’re doing right now, so I definitely think this is better and it’s a progression,” says Rowell, a former member of the hardcore collective Some Girls, and who met his bandmate/best friend at a San Diego political meeting in 1999 when they were teenagers. “I hope that people celebrate it even more than they did the last record.”
Recorded at a home studio in Joshua Tree, CA, a dozy, outlying town in the Mojave Desert, Sleep Forever is an abraded, kaleidoscopic collection of fuzzy noise and abstracted vocal layers that are blistering and transfixing, lending itself to desolation that traverses an illimitable soundscape. It’s a somewhat responsive bewilderment to the recording location, chosen by Simian Mobile Disco founder and Sleep Foreverproducer James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Klaxons, Florence and the Machine), that Rowell dubs as “somewhat spiritual.” While neither Rowell nor Welchez ever visited Joshua Tree, they found the idea of being sequestered in the desert for the duration of recording “really, really enticing.”
“James seemed pretty confident that it was gonna be good,” says Rowell, “It wasn’t our choice but it was definitely the right choice.”
According to the Crocodiles half, the geographical setting did have a significant influence in how Sleep Forever went directionally and how its songs manifested. It’s also due in large part to the fact that, going into the recording process, the duo didn’t “map out” their album. Despite what Rowell calls an “overall umbrella” of emotions to the material and a desire to write superior, versatile songs based on the illustrious songwriting they hold in high regard, Crocodiles were steeped in vagueness. And even though Rowell offers that maybe, subconsciously, they did, they were “in no way… discussing [that] it was gonna be crowdy and dubby.”
Still, it was an ambiguity of circumstance that benefited the San Diego-based outfit in the end. According to Rowell, it was only until the completion of the aptly titled Sleep Forever – a phrase, he says, that epitomizes the vibe evoked in Joshua Tree – when the “spirit of it” was realized. “It truly came to life [after the three of us] put it together. It completely 100 percent conjures up the memories of being in the desert, creating it. It was the ideal place to do it because the album has a lot to do with isolation and reacting to your environment.”
As with the record’s trajectory, the number of songs that ultimately made up Sleep Forever were also not premeditated. Instead, they were chosen by synergy and, to the pair, those were the eight that, not only were the best written, but also “fit perfectly,” and if another one was added, it wouldn’t have the same magnetic effect. “They’re panoramic. They’re big songs that have life to them and they have detail,” Rowell urges, his voice betraying a genuine artistic passion. “They flow into each other and they’re dynamic. We really didn’t think about whether we needed 9 or 10 or 12. You should never overstay, overextend yourself.”
As for Sleep Forever’s music, Rowell wants it to stand on it on its own two feet, never defined by influences that the pair bonded over as teens. And while it may seem suitable to draw comparisons to other artists, like the Velvet Underground or the Jesus & Mary Chain (as their debut album did), it would be confining to place Crocodiles in such an easy box. Or, at least, that’s the way he sees it.
It’s like this: To be an artist, says Rowell, and have what you’ve produced feel crafted and run the “gamut of emotions” experienced while piecing it together labeled as sounding, upon release, like this or that band is stifling – offensive even. “I would hope that most musicians like to think that they’re doing something that’s their own, that’s original but you just can’t escape it,” he says, noting that “nowadays, everyone’s a music critic. If that’s how a reviewer wants their work to come across, then so be it. If I was a reviewer, I think I’d be ashamed of myself.”
But, for Crocodiles, such makeshift appraisals, while disappointing, aren’t their end all, be all. They’re going to continuing shaping material that’s “better, more original and more interesting music” that they, and they alone, are satisfied with.
“We’re always gonna be [moving] in a new direction and in no way is our compass some other band’s album,” he concludes, firmly.
[Photo credit: Alex Kacha]
Crocodiles begin a UK tour this week and then commence a North American leg in late October. Full litinerary at their MySpace page.