Even before a single song had been released to the world by Crosses, Shaun Lopez and Chino Moreno were questioning the traditional formats. Rather than get hung up on the idea of “the album,” it seemed far more practical for these guys in particular to record a few songs at a time, release an EP and move on. Then, after two such EPs in as many years, came encouragement from all sides, and a deal with Sumerian Records. More crucially, there would be continued inspiration from within what had by then become a band, with the addition of Chuck Doom, and a few friends to support a series of live gigs that would trickle out one date at a time.
The mechanics of how a particular album came about should be irrelevant to an objective critique of its music. But in the case of Crosses’ debut LP, the process has left a few marks worth examining. With the deal with Sumerian, what would have been EP ††† (The Epilogue, Blk Stallion, Bitches Brew, Nineteen Ninety Four, and Death Bell, in that order) wound up rolled together with the first two EPs, and that is the LP released last week. I presume the band had at least three choices: Only releasing EP †††; treating the LP as a simple anthology package; or approaching it like a mixtape, picking songs both old and new that could be assembled into a cohesive 45 minutes or so. And the music is affected by the band’s ultimate decision to do all three of these things simultaneously.
While it is possible to buy EP ††† as a standalone record now, the LP is all fifteen songs from the three EPs, carefully re-shuffled to feel like an album rather than three disjointed chapters. And even putting aside a fan’s expectations of what song they’re used to hearing after another, there are some bumps in the road. Downtempo shoegazers Nineteen Ninety Four and Nineteen Eighty Seven are complimentary tracks from opposite ends of the band’s discography. But with only one song separating them on the LP, one of them feels a little redundant. Frontiers, born to be an opening track, could have fit better after that lull, to gracefully wake us up again.
Less could have been more; Cutting a couple of these tracks in the name of a smoother and more concentrated flow would have still left a respectably sized LP. But these are only minor nitpicks. And the fact is that the way this LP came about was the only way it could have, given the members’ unique circumstances. And it’s an immensely satisfying collection of music, regardless of any distracting details.
In a world where everything is some kind of remix, originality comes from an array of influence that either taps deeply into the strange and obscure, or is so broad and eclectic that nothing recognizable after the process. Between Chino and Shaun, there’s an ocean of inspiration that is both. They’re as well-versed in 80s new wave as they are in west coast gangster rap, in hardcore, in modern pop, trap, and all kinds of other weird shit. Kicking off the band’s first EP and this LP, This Is A Trick is a clear demonstration of the band’s rich palette, impossibly placed at the center of a love triangle between Chief Keef, Depeche Mode, and Refused, with Duff McKagan of all people somehow contributing bass. Theholyghst is harder to pin down, and beyond the songs of the first EP, there’s no hope in trying to reverse engineer anything.
If you tried, if you were to peel back the many layers of exotic sounds, you’d be left with song structures as mature and informed as some of, say, Nine Inch Nails’ best material from Reznor’s creative peak. And while that guy’s got plenty of creative genius up his sleeves, Crosses has a few advantages in how they dress up the same sort of adamantium song skeletons. There’s not just the band’s arguably wider library of cues, but there’s also the fact that Chino Moreno is constantly evolving his vocal and lyrical skills, and his work with Crosses must be recognized among his strongest to date. The well-named Bitches Brew empties the whole bag of tricks, with a witchy, vibrato hook, and a vicious screaming outro straight from hell. Also from the newest set of songs, The Epilogue brings a more straightforward delivery, but one that soars over a perfectly constructed pop song, letting each word sink into your head for inevitable future sing-alongs. It’s a refinement of the formula for the first EP’s Bermuda Locket, yet that track manages to stand on its own despite directly following its predecessor on the LP.
The music itself is far more than a vehicle for Chino’s ever-coveted vocals though, which is what elevates it above a side project or late night snack for Deftones fans. Regardless of who holds the microphone, With Crosses, the multi-talented Shaun Lopez further asserts his status as one of rock’s new masterminds. Having establishing himself by co-founding the massively influential and underrated hardcore band Far, before confidently leading the Revolution Smile as if fronting a band is something you can just start doing, Shaun continues to prove that there are few known ingredients that he can’t cook up something good with. Even the tricked-out remixes of pop songs he does under the Easy Girl moniker effectively punk the entire institution of over-hyped and massively overpaid european recycle-jockey DJs, all of them outdone by this talented metalhead looking for a laugh in his free time. In Crosses, the hooks and punches on tracks like Telepathy and Blk Stallion are more than just mixtape linchpins, they’ve got the kind of mass resonance that could (or at least, should) put Crosses on the radio next to Gorillaz, and everything that Danger Mouse touches.
Throughout the album, there are nods to countless fun niches of music, from witch house to hardcore to the most unholy of modern pop, but it never feels gimmicky or ironic. It’s done boldly, by artists that clearly have respect for a wide range of predecessors, even if it’s cherry-picked. The seemingly dark, black-clad end result comes from positive, open, even optimistic artistic minds. And ultimately, I can’t shake the instinct that it’s dualities like this, between the dark and light, with equal respect paid to hard rock and teenage pop, that earn our acclaim for Crosses’ body of work thus far. It’s not just Chino in fine form, and it’s not just Shaun and Chuck’s musical scrapbooking skills. It’s the whole pot, the sum of the parts multiplied by the depth of history and inspiration. Despite its unusually tricky genesis, Crosses is one of the most interesting and immersive bands to come along in a great while. And while the debut LP is dinged a few points on sheer technicality, it is sure to be left standing at the end of this year as one of the finest.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.