The beauty of a record review is that it’s, for better or worse, just some dude’s opinion. Even at Treble, the keen insight you’re tuning into is just the internal monologues of people named Jeff, Terry, Adrian, Hubert and Ayn. And because of the diversity of opinions out in the world of criticism, everybody hears something different in an album, thus contributing to their own personal take on the album. When it really boils down to it, nobody is going to hear the same thing in an album that everyone else does, but rather, we are invited to look into someone else’s experience for a few hundred words. Not that I don’t appreciate someone telling me that the new 50 Cent album pales in comparison to his debut, there’s always a little bit of room for consumer pragmatism. But the personal account is the kicker. Without it, I wouldn’t have learned about how much like The Strokes and like Steely Dan Crystal Skulls sound, without even hearing the album, mind you.
Then I get ahold of the album. Steely Dan? Maybe a little, though I’d hate to admit that I enjoy listening to a band that sounds like the Dan. But The Strokes? You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve also heard The Move, Badfinger, The Shins and Spoon. Merely reference points, but ones that are worthy of some consideration. Because, really, when someone asks you what a band sounds like in a crowded bar, it’s easier just to shout another band’s name. When someone approaches me about Crystal Skulls, however, it’s not going to be so simple. Calling them a cross between Julian Casablancas and Donald Fagen isn’t really going to cut it. They’re more interesting than both bands, even when combined. And more importantly, I’m going to feel like I wasn’t trying hard enough.
When I hear Crystal Skulls, I hear some Spoon. But only from Girls Can Tell. No Kill The Moonlight. No Series of Sneaks. But I also hear loungy acts like The Cardigans, pre Gran Turismo. And recent Call and Response. But you see, it’s more complicated than that. Crystal Skulls don’t play a style of pop that labels stick to easily. Their new full-length, Blocked Numbers, shows the Pacific Northwest as a compelling, yet fun, light, yet colorful pop band. Combining jazzy chord progressions and soulful Rhodes piano with a steady rock beat and smooth, lazy vocals, The Crystal Skulls are making pop interesting again.
There’s a tiny bit of mid-period Stereolab in opener “Airport Motels,” a moderately paced track that’s an instant standout. “Hussy” follows, one of the longer tracks with the golden chorus of “you’re not a hussy anymore.” “Beat Me To It” is written more around the keyboards, with more of an ooky-spooky vibe that melts into jazz-pop bliss. The boys show off their chops on the syncopated jangle pop of “Count Your Gold,” while “No Room For Change” recalls The Police with its nigh ska-leanings. Though they never really rock out or play anything whisper quiet, they display a varied range of colors from a seemingly limited palette.
The Crystal Skulls have an interesting take on pop music, just as I might have an interesting take on listening to it. It may not be, but it’s only one guy’s opinion. And it’s this guy’s opinion that Blocked Numbers is a hell of a debut.
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.