Sleep Forever
Fat Possum

Crocodiles are a band that is irritatingly difficult to dislike. The Californian duo of Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell knows how to push all of the right buttons to send fits through the psychedelic feelers that emit from the speakers. Their debut, Summer of Hate, had a lackadaisical West Coast polish and a knack for ephemeral melodies and endless sunshine, but truly rang hollow when evaluated under the surface. With Sleep Forever, even in tweaking their sonics far beyond the average JAMC-wannabe flavor of the week, Crocodiles further solidify the fact that they are charlatans, propping themselves up in smoke and mirrors and passing it off as substantially innovative poppy drug music to make your friends take more drugs.

Be that as it may, that doesn’t make Sleep Forever any less fun to behold, at least for one spin. With Spacemen 3 (Sonic Boom produced their first record) and ’60s Sunset Boulevard freakbeat as obvious touchstones, the duo do expand their sound into electronic oscillations, as on the motorik pulse of lead track “Mirrors,” and sugary sweet confections, heard on the tambourine-rattling girl-group glisten of “Hearts of Love.” But again, they fail to make a permanent impression. This seems to be the trend of this particular Cali camp (Welchez shacks up with Dee Dee of the Dum Dum Girls): a strict dedication to making things sound authentic without an ounce of soul in the songs. That doesn’t mean Sleep Forever isn’t a total waste. Songs like “Stoned to Death” and the title track push guitars and their eventual reverberations so far into outer realms that they might induce a hallucinogenic response. But it’s a kneejerk one. Anyone with the proper equipment and a encyclopedic knowledge of the bands from which they’re ripping can create this deceivingly rich, yet ultimately vapid, brand of psychedelia.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “Sleep Forever”

The Thermals
Personal Life
Kill Rock Stars

You know it when you hear it. It’s the sound of band who’s lost whatever precious spark it was that animated their big hits or their best riffs. There are two too many songs at a boring middle-tempo. The lyrics are unexceptional and occasionally shocking with their blase construction. Several songs are needlessly long, as if the band needed just two more choruses to make the thing lengthy enough to fulfill some contract. The Thermals are now five albums into their career, and I’m not saying that Hutch Harris has lost the fire, but I hope he takes a good long time to make sure he still has it before recording the sixth.

There are some pretty scary signs of retreat on Personal Life. Shall we start with “Your Love Is So Strong?” Wait, that sounds familiar... “Whoa oh ay oh oh oh oh.” Yes, that’s because it’s the exact same hook that only 15 months ago opened the title track on last year’s Thermals album. They just slowed it down a bit. That bucket of BS is proceeded by “Alone, a Fool.” At just more than two minutes, with only two verses and no chorus, it’s mostly strumming and just barely qualifies as a song. Uh oh.

And yes, those lyrics. “Power Lies” is a fine example. They’re really just a series of bad rhymes set to a pat guitar riff. It goes like this: “On top, to stop, defend, the end, my steps, my death, to leave, to breathe, my past, this path, my chest, protect, my length, my strength.” And then it’s over, and none too soon. Oh well. At least that video for “I Don’t Believe You” has Carrie Brownstein in it. She’s cool.
Matt Slaybaugh

MP3: “I Don’t Believe You”

Wait. Think. Fast.
Luces del Sur

Wait. Think. Fast’s lead singer/keyboardist, Jacqueline Santillan, once had a fine midnight ride noir-garage band called Central City Transmission who put out an EP, Incommunicado, in 2004 that was one of the more intriguing, if utterly overlooked, records of that year. Sadly that band crumbled, and in 2007, Santillan returned with a new line-up plying a similarly shadowy sound on WTF’s debut EP. Three years later (a veritable lifetime in our age), I had assumed that band sputtered too. But Santillan is back with a full album, and we’ll refrain from the “it was worth the wait” pun since the relative distance in sonic personality and songwriting from that first EP is considerable. Hence the wait was needed it would seem.

With emotional aspirations warmly wrapped in long-dead Southwestern country crooners but a sound sprouted from present day Echo Park, Luces del Sur is nothing if not confidently centered. The first two songs are a perfect reflection of the steam this band has gained. Tasteful scrunchy guitar sounds rub under synth melodies, piano pound and the general swoon of the indie styles of the band’s region without succumbing to de rigueur No Age-ist Pro Tooled scratches—and always with Santillan’s pipes (kind of like Neko Case raised on oozy quesadillas rather than bone-picking fried chicken) leading it out of the end of the indie forest into a more accessible, tuneful thing. Not to mention Santillan sings in Spanish and English, often within the same song, surreally supplying a kind of sexy duet with some long lost partner.

“Leymah Contra Los Diablos” and “Covina Park” have a hint of the Southwest dirt-road rush of mid-80s roots rock a la latter-day X and the Long Ryders. The height of the band’s bordertown barista froth comes on “Jornaleras,” with its quickly strummed acoustic guitar, jarana action and backing vocals yearning towards a past road not taken. On “Bad Night,” Santillan nearly usurps the obvious Neko affection, as she croons, “Since you took off, I’m only idling.” First of all, whomever this cat is who took off ought to be rethinking his plans if the snuggle in her vox and the general dusky mood of the music is any indication of her wooing abilities. Vocally and lyrically, Santillan is not idling. The music, however, does at times. Tempos tend to hover around the same intersection, and (to drag the left coast auto metaphor further) the band might want to make some sudden left turns in the future to keep things interesting. The skittish digital drumming of “Look Alive” may or may not be it. Probably not.

WTF’s Americana persona is less craggy cowboy and more Silverlake vintage store clerk closing up shop on a sad, lonely Wednesday night. Nevertheless, that vibe is still there as is the open-air atmosphere of our ol’ doomed manifest destiny soul and the nervous aura of LA’s ever-evolving multi-culti indie milieu.
Eric Davidson

Winter Gloves
All Red
Paper Bag

The last time I listened to Winter Gloves was, appropriately, two winters ago, when they released their frenetic debut full-length, About a Girl. I remember thinking that if they could only perfect their gritty, industrial-pop sound and perhaps grow a bit as musicians then they had the potential to fill a musical niche that has been lacking in the post-hardcore realm since Q and Not U disbanded in 2005. That was then, and ultimately, this is now, and while Winter Gloves could have morphed into something of substance, they instead turned into a cliched dance-pop extravaganza. This time around, the Gloves have adapted a sound that’s less post-anything and more Postal Service.

Apropos of this, All Red contains nothing even remotely groundbreaking. It isn’t terrible, either, for the sound they’re trying to emulate, er, create. The album begins with a “Glow In The Dark,” which contains a generic, choppy bassline and some obligatory handclaps before launching headlong into a synth-heavy, rainbowed rave breakdown. It’s certainly danceable, which seems to be the overriding mission of this album—it might not be great, but at least it’ll get your feet moving. “Use Your Lips” sounds, for better or worse, as though it could be the twelfth song on Passion Pit’s Manners, especially when the occasional falsetto-howl seeps into frontman Charles F’s vocals. Oddly enough, one of the few songs that does stick out is trapped at the end of the album, the aptly titled “Ending Soon,” which is full of unbridled avant-pop joy.

Lyrically, the tracks focus mainly on deeply abstract concepts like anxieties surrounding the purpose and significance of life, love, etc. (“Do you really love it? And do you really love?”) While it’s refreshing to hear a band sing about something other than losing the girl or personal inadequacies, such profound thoughts are dulled by backing music that’s hard to take seriously.

All Red continues the Canadian influx of bands that are chockfull of kitschy instruments, pop and pep, but lacking in depth. That kitsch worked on About a Girl, but now that they’ve effectively stripped themselves of that zaniness, they have, in turn, stripped this album of its appeal. But who knows, perhaps Winter Gloves will claim a coveted slot alongside lots of oversized knits and unassumingly beautiful women on the soundtrack of a Zach Braff movie.
Jennifer Farmer

The Intelligence

Snot-nosed rock is nothing new. Since the dawn of time, countless kids have shown that attitude always trumps musical aptitude. And while Scion and other corporate entities might continue to try to co-opt such brash cool for their own purposes, there will always be another dipshit with a guitar possessing something that just can’t be bottled.

To wit, the Intelligence, a revolving gang of Seattlites who, belying their moniker, have been banging together a primitive mix of Nuggets and British Invasion influences for more than a decade without the slightest thought to “evolving.” Led by Lars Finberg (formerly also of the A Frames), the Intelligence has seemingly kept things simple for simple’s sake, preferring the thud of a four-four drumbeat and the noise one can make with just three chords to grander aspirations.

For Males, the sixth Intelligence record, Finberg was joined by members of Eat Skull and Mayyors, and the result is an album that bucks with a certain amount of abandon even when the band applies the most elementary (and I mean that in the most literal, yet best, way) chord progressions, as on “Turned to Puke.” The Intelligence are the kind of pinheads the Ramones celebrated and this comes through on songs like “Like Like Like Like Like Like Like.” Hell that one’s title is even dumb, but a one-word repeated chorus and a rudimentary song structure does nothing to diminish the cut. Sometimes the smartest thing is to keep things basic, and in that sense and others, the Intelligence is pure genius.
Stephen Slaybaugh

MP3: “Like Like Like Like Like Like Like”

Mice Parade
What It Means to Be Left-Handed
Paper Bag

There really is no accounting for taste these days. Mice Parade, the band de plume of Adam Pierce, has spent a decade exploring the bubblier side of post-rock and making records light on vocals but heavy on percussive grooves and chirping riffs. So what better way to launch the next decade of his alter ego’s existence than for Adam Pierce to lead a diverse group of musicians into the studio to record the most inconsistent and frustrating album of his career?

One-third a nightmarish meeting of world-music touches, power chords and airy female vocals (as if Frente and Dave Matthews finally made a record together), one third a blatant Lemonheads tribute (from covering the Lemonheads to borrowing Evan Dando’s lazy attitude), and one third a bland fulfillment of electronic expectations, What It Means to Be Left-Handed is nothing short of a total mess. If you only listened to “In Between Times,” you’d think this was a Christian rock record for dumb little kids. If you only listened to “Pond” or “Tokyo Late Night,” you’d think it was the soundtrack to Sophia Coppola’s newest flick. But if you only listened to “Recover” or “Fortune of Folly,” you might think it was a halfway decent record of crooked, indie downers. The record isn’t entirely without charm—just mostly. But every time I start to enjoy some of it that chick with the nine-year-old’s voice shows up to ruin things. Adam, what the hell happened here?
Matt Slaybaugh