Sharp Noise

Crocodiles seek out the beautiful melodies in their cinematic, loud noise pop

Rock writers are a lazy lot, prone to groupspeak and really only willing to chase a story to places that offer booze, BBQ or both.

That's why we'll tell you that San Diego-bred indie rocker Crocodiles sound like Jesus & Mary Chain, the '80s UK band that helped birth shoegaze.  Or Echo & the Bunnymen, the more ethereal U2 contemporaries who never got their American due.

But there's a lot more to what makes America's best noise pop band tick. Elements of Wire, Can, Suicide, '60s Farfisa-fueled garage pop, 13th Floor Elevators all course through the veins of the music made by Charles Rowell, Brandon Welchez and their band mates.

The crux of the sound is that sense of melody and dreaminess matched with razor-sharp noise injection, Rowell tells the Reader on the phone as Crocodiles prepare to begin their current tour.

It's all about finding that fine line between beauty and discordance, he says.

"We're big fans of the classic pop songs, but we're really intrigued by noise," Rowell says.

It's all encoded into the two songwriters DNA, as even their listening choices bounce back and forth on that ugly/beautiful musical spectrum.

"We like T. Rex, but there's also the side of us that like Crass," Rowell says.

That also means that the band seeks to contrast a pretty melody with dirty or dark subject matter. Though there's indications that Crocodiles' third album, the forthcoming Endless Flowers, may work towards dispelling some of the darkness that inhabited their first two albums, 2009's Summer of Hate and 2010's Sleep Forever.

Rowell says the record uses the bigger, cinematic production of Sleep Forever as a leaping-off point. There's a lot of new vibes and sounds that the band hasn't tried before on the new album.

The songwriting process was fairly extensive this time, with plenty of material never making the final cut. Rowell says the songs feel more developed than any of the band's past work.

While past releases mostly featured heavier, uptempo rock songs paired with a ballad or two, this time the band worked on closing the gap between those two extremes, adding jangly guitars and elements that could almost be considered ska or reggae-derived.

"We kind of filled it out in the middle. It's a moodier record," Rowell says.

Still, that juxtaposition of noise and melody remains at the heart of the band's sound.

"I just think it's a little bit more colorful this time around," Rowell says.

After 15 years of writing songs with Welchez in Crocodiles and previously in The Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower, Rowell says that sound just comes out naturally no matter the project.

"It's important to not lose the identity of the band," Rowell says.

The other big change on the recording was the addition of the members of Crocodiles live lineup to the recording sessions, which took place at Berlin's LowSwing studios. The first two recordings primarily feature just Rowell and Welchez.

After the duo wrote songs, they rehearsed with the band for three weeks and then recorded the mostly live takes in two weeks. The idea was to capture that energy of the band's shows.

"We ate a lot of schnitzel, drank a lot of beer and recorded the third album," Rowell says.

Minimal overdubs were recorded, which left some of the mistakes and experimentation of the live, group takes in tack.

"We left in a lot of the personality," Rowell says.

Now with a full-band album under their belts, the lineup seems to be coalescing into something fairly permanent, Rowell says. The five-piece version of Crocodiles has been playing together since 2010.

Endless Flowers will also be the band's first album not released by Fat Possum Records. Instead Souterrain, a subsidiary of City Slang, will release the album in Europe and Frenchkiss Records will handle the U.S. release.

Rowell says there's a label enthusiasm for this album that didn't exist at Fat Possum after Sleep Forever came out. The band didn't even have to approach Frenchkiss about signing Crocodiles.

"It's kind of like starting over," he says. "It's really refreshing with these two new labels."

Crocodiles w/ Bleeding Rainbows play the Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St., Thursday, March 1st at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 day-of-show. For more information, visit

posted at 05:46 pm
on Tuesday, February 21st, 2012


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