Crocodiles — the water-bound reptiles that dwell in the world’s sun-soaked tropical locales — have no real connection to Crocodiles, the psychedelic noise-pop band formed in 2008 by San Diego natives Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell. Other than sharing a name, that is.
Crocodiles the band has drummed up a healthy buzz since issuing their clamorous debut of art punk in 2009. Summer of Hate showed a penchant for heavy feedback, and drone and stoner-shoegaze tendencies recalling White Light/White Heat-era Velvet Underground and The Jesus and Mary Chain. These noisier influences seeped into 2010 follow-up Sleep Forever, its raw and hazy smears of grandiose psychedelia imbued with elements of krautrock, surf rock and ’60s girl-group jukebox pop. Welchez and Rowell recorded the album with Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford and keyboardist Robin Eisenberg, and Sleep Forever not only landed on several best of lists at the end of the year, but led to the musicians meeting and befriending a superstar fan during an in-store performance in London: Dan Treacy, leader of Britsh post-punk band Television Personalities and cult icon of indie rock who MGMT so famously paid tribute to in “Song for Dan Treacy.”
“He was in the crowd singing along, and he’d made us drawings and stuff,” Welchez explained when we spoke by phone last week as he ran errands in his current homebase of NYC a few days before Crocodiles launched their U.S. tour. They were obviously surprised and flattered by Treacy’s attention, and hit it off with him so well that he ended up sitting in with Crocodiles during their XFM radio session later that night. “We were like ‘Teach us one of your new songs and we’ll play it together, and you sing it.’ He was excited to do it and it turned out great. Now he’s a friend, we see him a lot when we’re in London.”
Third album Endless Flowers was released in June, and introduces an overriding vibe of late ’70s/early ’80s power pop, Dark Wave and post punk all crowded amid Crocodiles’ sunny, echo-shrouded pop and scuzzy, acid-washed rock.
Despite being self-produced, Endless Flowers feels more cohesive and polished than its two predecessors, which likely had much to do with the change in recording tactics, personnel and environment. After they finished writing material for the album, Rowell and Welchez expanded the Crocodiles lineup permanently to include Eisenberg along with bassist Marco Gonzalez and drummer Anna Schulte, and last summer, all five musicians flew to Berlin, rented a flat, and spent the next two months rehearsing and recording Endless Flowers.
For the three newer band members, it was a matter of learning the songs and adding their own personal flourishes; for Rowell and Welchez, it was a matter of making sure the end translation gelled with what they’d originally envisioned. “Putting the record together was different with a five-piece than it was when it was just Chuck and I,” Welchez said. “When it was just two of us, we kind of had to build songs like a pyramid — he’d play bass and I’d play drums and we’d overdub everything over top of that. A lot of the work went into seeing what the finished arrangement of the song would sound like, and if we didn’t like it at the end, we’d have to start all over. With a five-piece, we were able to just jam a song in the space, and if we didn’t like it, we could alter it very quickly.”
Welchez’s sneering, black-leather-jacket-and-dark-sunglasses vocals have been brought forward in the mix on Endless Flowers so you can clearly make out the surrealistic poetry and lyrical imaginings he’s delivering. His blasé tone is bolstered by ethereal female choruses that bring a certain sweetness to the swirling and buzzing washes of sound. The title track kicks off the album with soaring nostalgia, segues into the resounding punk-inflected charge of “Sunday (Psychic Conversation #9),” adds skuzzy tenderness in “No Black Clouds for Dee Dee,” which has Welchez crooning lines like, “If you were a daisy thirsting for a fix, I’d gladly be the dew” while the retro appealing stand-out track “My Surfing Lucifer” features fuzzed-out guitars and bass riding a catchy up-tempo beat.
Recording in Berlin was a one-of-a-kind experience. According to Welchez, “It’s just a really conducive place for artists to live — it’s affordable, cheap really, there’s a lot of lot freaks and oddballs, so musicians and bohemian types don’t really stick out in a negative way. You don’t get fucked with at bars. Drugs are kind of decriminalized, so you don’t get hassled for that. There’s just not a lot of violence or aggression in the city, so you can just sit around in a park and have this idyllic almost stereotypical artistic existence.”
Only two of the five band members have remained in San Diego since that fateful summer; Eisenberg re-located to Berlin, Rowell settled in London, and Welchez landed in NYC. “So we don’t see each other as often, except for when we’re touring.” The latest on-the-road reunion brings Crocodiles to Ybor City for a night of dizzying sounds at New World.
Where were you sitting? Your review is a bit negative sounding to say the least…
Love that album. It still sounds great and according to this outstanding review, Huey also…
Excellent review, sorry I missed the concert.
I was fortunate to see Bonnie Raitt. Her stage presence was heart warming and her…