Despite this being a Crocodiles album review, this tale begins with Wavves: Originally the solo project of frontman Nathan Williams, the noise-punk outfit recently expanded into a full-fledged threesome and completed the lo-fi shot of fun, sun, and acid trips that is King of the Beach. I mention that only to segue into the fact that Crocodiles, formerly a two-piece, anti-fascist noise-pop band, have shifted their sound (at least as a live gig) into a full-band experience for their sophomore album, Sleep Forever. While it’s not as drastic a shift as what the boys in Wavves brought to shore, the follow-up to 2009’s Summer of Hate shows that while the Crocodiles’ red-hot passion has cooled, the band is just as sharp as ever.
Keeping to a tight, lean eight tracks, much like its predecessor, Sleep Forever is a collection of well-executed baby steps toward a sound that is far more pop than it is noise (though, at times more noise than pop). For one thing, they’ve taken some of their visceral edge and spun it into confident epics. Album-opener “Mirrors” builds from a plane of total nihilistic desolation to a big march toward glory by an army of a thousand synths. While it’s a grand start to an emotional journey, that sentiment reaches a high point in the duo of “Girl In Black” and the title track. The former is a quiet little ode, stripped of almost any of the first LP’s destructive explosion of punk spite (usually in the form of haggard guitars); instead, it barely comes to life, breathing at a shallow rate for some five minutes of forlorn anxiety. When things do pick up in “Sleep Forever”, it all shuffles along nervously in a big, pop haze, a climax where the lush, full sound shakes itself awake from a long slumber into a burst of pure, clangy noise. Fellow noise pop acts, take note.
Fans of the first album are sure to miss the sonic delicacies of great hooks and lovable choruses. While they’ve given up the good, gutsy rock that came courtesy of moody guitars, they’ve amped up efforts in creating more stable, mature, lyrical choices. It should be noted, though, that “All My Hate and My Hexes Are For You” still has a mesmerizing chorus call.
“Stoned To Death” takes its drum-heavy drone and pulls out a lot of the emotional quirks, creating a far more repetitive sound. But lyrically, they go for the gusto with lines that would seemingly be found in the back catalog of New Division. With lyrics like “the whole world is an ocean, laughing while you drown” and “somewhere in the garden of your head, grows flowers brittle, brown, and dead,” there’s a clear flair for the dramatic. But when compared to the pouty, overtly brat-like lines from Summer of Hate, much of the lyrics in Sleep Forever stand as examples of real development, a burning out against the onslaught of agony and a submission to the complexities of music, songwriting, and the world as a whole.
While Mr. Williams got his act together with his latest album, Crocodiles co-frontmen Charles Rowell and Brandon Welchez more or less had it all straight long before we ever heard of them and their take on Echo & the Bunnymen. While they’ve calmed down sufficiently, both albums still share a common thread: The world sucks, music can save your life, and if you can’t make a point in 30 minutes, it isn’t worth saying in the first place. Amen to that.