As members of The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower, Charles Rowell and Brandon Welchez contributed to one of the most joyously destructive bands to have left their mark on this decade. With Nation of Ulysses-style punk rock scorchers and a penchant for dropping trou, The Plot turned all ages shows into affectionate riots. The band writhed and jerked, and so did the audience, and if memory serves correctly, their chaotic nature even got them kicked out of a Baltimore club. Of course, that which burns brightest burns fastest, and shortly after 2005’s Love in the Fascist Brothel, the group called it quits.
Having reunited as Crocodiles, Rowell and Welchez have largely abandoned the chaotic, barely contained punk menace in favor of a project based on classic songwriting with post-punk flourishes. They’re still loud, still noisy, still raw; yet Crocodiles’ debut album Summer of Hate is a much more accessible creation. Their name may give away part of their identity—Echo & The Bunnymen’s woozy psych-rock is definitely part of the equation—though Suicide, OMD, Jesus and Mary Chain and any number of obscure late ’70s/early ’80s feedbackers get swirled around in the duo’s clattering cement mixer.
“I Wanna Kill,” which has been circulating on blogs and endorsed by The Fader, is the most direct Automatic homage, with steady drum machine rhythms and an enormously catchy chorus that could make “I want to kill tonight” the most repeatable lyric of the summer. However, it’s also a red herring. Once this number has run its course, Crocodiles leap into something creepier, noisier and just plain kickass. This is no tribute act—no amount of influential touchstones could overshadow the careening eeriness of this album’s nine tracks.
When Rowell and Welchez surge into punk rock mode, the duo’s unstoppable. “Soft Skull (In My Room)” layers the reverb and delay effects thick, but what comes through strongest is its infectious melody. Likewise, “Refuse Angels” plows Big Black style with an industrial drum stomp and fuzzed-out guitars that could shatter glass. Alternately, the duo’s ballads are outright stunning. The ethereal analogue synths in “Sleeping with the Lord” create an atmosphere reminiscent of Architecture & Morality‘s dreamiest moments, while “Here Comes the Sky” has a distorted sweetness about it, pretty but unsettling, a bit like Suicide’s softer tunes.
Crocodiles are most compelling when they tread a middle ground between straightforward rocker and dream-pop balladry, charting a unique course of their own. The title track certainly rocks, but in a most peculiar way, building on a central, transcendent hook as drum machines are cast aside for an intense, pounding bass drum. And in the song’s final minute, it erupts into a cymbal-destroying climax of riffs and beats briefly exploding just to ensure your pulse doesn’t drop. Closer “Young Drugs” is epic and gorgeous, building on a simple, Kraftwerk-like repetition, slowly creeping its way toward the five-minute mark, after which Welchez sings along with the descending, super-creepy synthesizer hook. And the album’s best five minutes belong to “Flash of Light,” which pairs a glam rock stomp with a slithering, sinister melody that wraps its spindly fingers around your spine. It’s horrific, but super fun, somehow juxtaposing the album’s best hooks with “Frankie Teardrop” howls and a minute long outro of looping distortion (which is even more deafening live).
Crocodiles wear their influences in all the right places, unapologetically so sometimes. But on Summer of Hate they’ve put together a truly solid album that ultimately transcends them. Welchez and Rowell may not be riling up crazed audiences with minute long raveups and free-jazz sax solos anymore, but what they’ve morphed into is something more mature, but no less unsettling. Summer of Hate may seem best on rotation near Halloween, but its hooks and melodies are strong enough to make it the surprise soundtrack of summer.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.