Summer of Hate
(Fat Possum; 2009)
By Alan Baban | 20 April 2009
“Young Drugs” opens like a mosaic of musical quotations and then, for a couple minutes, keeps laying it on: synths, sound effects, drudgery, a lotta maths. The moment it trains into canned drums and real stoned-man vocals is propulsive and effulgent and soul-effacing; basically a lot of comic and comically subtle things that draw you away from the fact that this is a tragic song about drugs and into the lull of its beautiful melody.
So, if anything, a puzzle of styles—on the one hand Crocodiles show a real know-how in assaying Automatic (1989)-era JAMC; on the other, they want to beat down any urge that music might have to play it straight. Then, yeah, sure, this is 2009 and we’re all living on the Internet, and this little band called No Age (who are actually little) opened some peeps up to an addiction of, I dunno, veganism and little coterie labels we all mightn’t have heard of had Nouns (2008) not carped the sound of a Billy Corgan backing track and reduced it to three chords. Sometimes two.
The good thing about Summer of Hate is that it’s the first album post-scene to make this concerted, LOUD effort to ballast its hype atop more real tangible quality. As in: more than a casual flirtation with quality. As in: good, good!, really very fucking good! songs. Songs as “outsider” and “weird” as newborn babies; real “songs.” Songs! No doubt that this is a record that delivers on its initial promises; repeated listens have shown the mix to be deep and cluttered with allsorts of sonic vagaries, like the totality of “Screaming Chrome,” or how “Flash of Light”‘s sharp descent into wigged-out delay effects does sound, sort of, like a crocodile. I think.
I mean, Crocodiles is a pretty bad-ass name, and though I can’t vouch to really know what those buggers sound like, I’d say Crocodiles: The Band do a hell of a job. They have the added bonus that all of these songs are catchy, so when feedback slices through the left channel of “I Wanna Kill,” the sentiment’s a traditional tear between 1) bubblegum insanities and 2) psycho certitude. Which, you know, really amount to the same thing.
I find the acid test for this sort of sound is how much it makes me feel like a badass…which “Soft Skull” does, all aggressive and bottom-heavy in its attack on jive organs, like a more adulterous Rapture; I get this is probably not what these guys want to hear, not in 2009, but it’s time I think (maybe) for the taboo to be sidelined. The point being that Echoes (2003) is a heck of an album—at least, it had a heck of a couple good songs, and some real (hey: “Infatuation”) clunkers that had the add-on mitigation of making those songs sound better. The clunker on Summer of Hate is, uh, “Summer of Hate.” Without it, Summer of Hate wouldn’t be Summer of Hate, a great album. “Summer of Hate,” a bad song, shows up what’s great about the rest of the material here, namely: the big bright chorus hooks, the prettily psychedelic outros, the interesting way reverb dismembers vocal lines and chords alike to mimic, I guess, fucked head-space? Too many drugs? It doesn’t matter, because half the time these songs will be pumping you’ll be thinking to yourself: hey, these are some really well-written songs. And the other half you’ll be presumably pumped.
“Summer of Hate” promises pump-age but just goes nowhere. That horror schtick surf sound they open on lashes into a sickly melody that goes on and on and on. I guess to hammer the point home: the “Summer of Hate” is long, arduous, “I’m die-eee-nn—ggg,” etc., but what makes Summer of Hate great for the most part is it’s boldness—by no means a great innovation, but absolutely decisive for a debut from a clogged scene. “Refuse Angels” is corrosive, but addictive; those times it seems to run an idea into a ground, it introduces another, then both juxtaposed run round imperious and before you know it, it’s finished, you wanna hear it again! There’s better. The slower dirge gospels—“Sleeping with the Lord,” “Here Comes the Sky”—aren’t so much tired retreads as they’re late revisions of a sound that many bands retreat into, but Crocodiles choose to genuinely explore; exploding Spacemen 3’s whole onus into something like arrogance. This is drone ambiance for your buds, and Buds. Meaning: Crocodiles did good!