Summer of Hate
When I write poetry, I most commonly do it as a form of exorcism. I have feelings I need to vent, whether frightful or painful or thoughtful, and writing them down allows me to process them, or to make sense of them, or to move past them. This has the side benefit of allowing me to create something out of a raw experience. Sometimes I end up with something beautiful, even if all I started out with was something troubling.
I suspect musicians do this, too. Certainly not all the time, but it's wonderful when their irrepressible impulse to share love or humor or angst or despair culminates in a great piece of music. Think of all the breakups and setbacks and breakthroughs they survived or overcame or championed. And it might never have been, had they chose to, say, go watch TV.
Crocodiles, a band from San Diego, have funneled their throbbing temples and clenched teeth and aching hearts and wistful stares into a 34-minute nerve net of emotion. Merging tremeloed guitar with drum programming and '60s pop sensibility, Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell capture the tender as well as the brutal.
Some tracks spurt confrontational energy. "Refuse Angels" lashes out with rapid-fire rimshots. "Flash of Light," which begins with swing and swagger, disintegrates into a full minute of caustic, repellent shooshing effects, like an aural strobe gone haywire. In the latter song, Welchez sings, "Tonight I'm gonna set my house on fire. ... Gonna rewrite my life."
The title track and "I Wanna Kill" would seem similarly inclined, although "I Wanna Kill" displays a gallows humor. Featuring a riff that could have been cribbed from The Crystals' "Then He Kissed Me," the song links a man's meager beginnings to his present frustration. It's the poppiest song on the album, with a back-and-forth chorus that includes "all the kids sing swan songs / all the kids sing along with me." This is somewhat more disturbing when you take into account that Welchez is a teacher by day.
Often, the message might be one of struggle, but the mood is anything but oppressive. "Sleeping With the Lord" assembles majestic vibratoed synths, almost like a take on Vangelis' classic theme "Chariots of Fire."
The CD, containing no liner notes, is scrawled "lovingly dedicated to Willy Graves." Graves was their bassist in a previous band, The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower. He died in autumn 2008 at the age of 28. So it's reasonable to assume his passing informed or influenced the tone of at least some these songs. Death and the afterlife is a recurring theme, with religious imagery popping up in several songs.
Summer of Hate has many highlights, but "Here Comes the Sky" is something extra special. Rowell's tremolo really shines here, shimmering amid a wavering synth that flows over it like an aura. There's something crushing about this track's tenderness, in the same way that some of Brian Wilson's songs go for that lump in your throat. Welchez tells us that his love has departed --- nothing special there --- but when he confesses, "In your absence, my heart's overflowed," it's such a powerful and unusual statement. He's not mad at her (or him, I suppose, although he equates her/him to a rose, which is a pretty strong feminine symbol); he actually has so much in his heart that it pours out. Continuing the metaphor, he says, together, they could grow to the sky, "where the weeds who are after us dry up and die."
It's so fanciful, so preposterous: a garden in the sky! And yet he's so unfaltering in his delivery, there's no denying that this is a deep avowal. Core-deep. It's a hope that we know is a dream. An impossible dream.
And Rowell's guitar gently weeps.
Saturday, January 30, 2010