Thursday, July 31, 2014

Palms v. Crosses

Son of Deftones Versus Mecha Deftones


There’s a story that the Cash family sent young Johnny to singing lessons. But upon hearing him for the first time, she told him to stop taking the lessons because his way was better.

I like to imagine the same thing could have happened to Chino Moreno. He’s definitely not singing the “right” way, but his way is so much better. It’s held me rapt for the better part of two decades. And more than that, he (and his bandmates) have grown and matured at roughly the same rate as my taste since my teenage years. It’s hard to imagine the Deftones were initially panned as a Korn clone, when today they’re more like an electro-Neurosis.

So you know where I’m coming from on the subject of Chino, as I discuss his most recent output—the self-titled debut albums from side projects Palms and Crosses.

Palms (2013) has been out for quite a while now, so you’ve probably either heard the album, or you’ve heard that it sounds pretty much like you’d expect: Isis fronted by Chino. And that’s more or less right. It’s heavy some-kind-of-gaze in six long tracks, with some of those Deftones electronic touches. Given that I’ve also gushed about Isis in these pages, you can guess that I’m on board, and I am. Unfortunately, there are two strikes against the record. First, it may be that the instrumentalists here really should have stopped playing Isis when they did. The returns are diminishing, or they simply don’t have it in them to write such massive music anymore. On top of that, the production isn’t quite as heavy as it could be, robbing it of power even with the volume cranked.

Where Palms takes the heavy and cinematic side of Moreno’s main band to its extreme, Crosses takes the Deftones singer in the opposite direction. It’s all about electronics and a pop sensibility, without abandoning that somber mood. Again, longtime readers of mine are going to know that I want this, given my professed love of Theatre of Tragedy’s synth-pop era and my newer love affair with late 80’s Killing Joke. A combination of vaguely gothic-sounding rock with sometimes-distorted bass and layers of electronics has my attention from the start.

The tracks are varying degrees of pop and range across the mellow/energetic scale, with a range of rhythms (I swear that’s a toned-down reggae beat on “Trophy”). “Cross” is a Nine Inch Nails instrumental. As with most poppy records, there is also a distinct range in quality, but I’ve been humming highlights “Telepathy” and “Blk Stallion” for the past two weeks. Seriously, the latter is a blend of White Pony, the Fight Club soundtrack, and The Cure. The record loses some points for being slightly too long (by its nature as a compilation of previous EPs and unreleased material).

In the end, the Palms record is beautiful and wonderful, but the Crosses record has more replay value. Those single-worthy songs are the kind that, in ten years’ time, I’ll be really excited to hear again. I find in favor of Crosses.

The Verdict:
Palms: 4 out of 5 stars
Crosses: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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