Crocodiles’ fourth album in as many years, Crimes of Passion, is the San Diego noise-pop duo’s most concise and sonically refined to date, taking the somewhat sunnier approach of last year’s Endless Flowers and combining it with the fuzzed-out, punky aesthetic of their first two albums. With production assistance from the Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner, Crimes of Passion has a fuller, more complex sound than anything else in the Crocodiles catalogue. Instead of just a wall of scratchy reverb and pounding drums leading the charge, singer Brandon Welchez’s nasally yet harmonious vocals are allowed to take center stage, supported by an array of dynamic backing instrumentation. Purling keys, less forceful percussion, and a lively brass section add a welcome layer of intricacy to an otherwise rather simplistic, murky set of melodies.
Crocodiles’ evolution is most evident on opener “I Like It in the Dark,” a cavorting, piano-driven ballad that finds Welchez pondering the notion of heaven and hell, giving an effective sermon on choosing one’s own route into the afterlife. As he repeats the song’s memorable closing refrain, “No, I won’t walk in the light, ’cause I like it in the dark,” a jovial gospel choir joins in, lending an emphatic, festive atmosphere to the proceedings. The poppy, Jesus and Mary Chain-esque “Marquis de Sade,” which slyly compares sadism to the uneasiness of a burgeoning romance, makes good use of an electric organ riff in combination with heavy feedback, later giving way to the warm hum of a lingering saxophone. These are sounds Crocodiles haven’t thoroughly explored before, and it’s refreshing to hear them expanding their arsenal. Even the borderline whiny “Cockroach,” with its sharp, angular guitars and belabored theme of post-breakup angst, smooths its roughness with a Doors-style keyboard solo that elevates the track beyond a downtrodden garage-rocker’s take on the subject of quarreling ex-mates.
Crimes of Passion is the high-spirited sound of a band maturing, and with such progress comes the inevitability of growing pains. While the album is the closest Crocodiles have come to achieving their own unique brand of tuneful clamor, there’s still a sense that they can’t quite move away from the blueprint of the new-wave artists that inspired them. Yet, enough of the album is filled with the magnetic energy of young musicians who live for their craft. The graceful “She Splits Me Up” is the best example of this, a modernized jangle-pop serenade that strikes a firm balance between mopey and majestic. It might not be their “Just Like Honey,” but it hints that Crocodiles could one day be capable of delivering something just as momentous.