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Crocodile - Howling Mad Black Music Under Hot Stars CD (album) cover





3.95 | 13 ratings

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4 stars Crocodile is a Neo-prog band from Austin, Texas, US that was founded in 2017, who released their first album in 2018. Their 2nd album, entitled "Howling Mad Black Music Under Hot Stars" was released on October 1, 2019. The quartet features Kevin Sims (guitar, vocals), Greg Seale (drums), Ted Thomas (bass, vocals), and Thomas Shaw (keyboards, vocals). The album consists of 7 tracks and has a run time of over 43 minutes.

The album starts with the call of crows, a thumping bass and the drone of a keyboard which is soon taken over by a lilting guitar line, a melodic guitar/synth passage and a rousing introduction catches fire and explodes into a memorable instrumental climax early on, before bringing in the vocals after 2 minutes. The sound lies somewhere in between Neo-prog and Heavy prog styles, guitar arpeggios boil with an alternative sense with a tense vocal melody with keys twinkling around in there bringing a bit of light in the mostly dark sound. During the instrumental break, a synth solo whistles along for a while before the music returns to the main vocal theme again. The melody isn't necessarily a standard melody, but isn't really complex either, again lying inbetween the two styles, the music stays complex enough to be interesting, but isn't over the top in it's complexities either, staying comfortable right in the middle, a good place to be ..It's an excellent start for the album, and establishes the feel of the album.

"I Was Dreaming" has a bit more of a lighter feel to it, with undertones of jazz sensibilities, but still teetering on the fine line between neo and heavy prog styles. This track has a more laid-back feel, smoothly moving along as the vocals explore this new melody as the instruments add the flair needed to keep it all from dragging, but instead turning it into a nice swirling sound with a tendency to lean jazz-ward. "Dark Inverted Jubilee" puts the band comfortable in the Neo-prog realm with tricky, changing meters, the melody much more complex than previously, yet the music staying safely in the neo-prog style, while retaining an alternative undertone. "Lovesick Wanderer" begins with a more standard and solid beat with a great guitar solo echoed by the keys. The beat can vary off a bit staying true to the progressive sound, but overall carries the song forward in a steady and infectious rhythm while the vocals and instruments play around with and take good advantage of the bouncy rhythm. The mix of instruments is perfect with both the guitars and keys being utilized equally.

"Shed My Skin" goes for a more funky groove, fitting in a nice mix of jazz fusion, a slightly reggae flavor and bits of progressive style. It's another happy sounding beat that still retains that alternative flair. The band takes on their inner "Steely-Dan" on this track with a smart use of keys providing the groove while the guitar gets to do some improvising around the main riff and the rhythm section keeps things in the infectious jazz groove. "The Genie (in Full Flower)" goes for a more complex and heavier sound, again moving back to the boundary between Neo and Heavy prog sub-genres again. Also, once again, the use of keys and guitar is perfect, both lead instruments shining through, but also a underlying dissonant unease to keep you on edge. "Avis Ender" finishes it all off with a smoothly flowing and sparkling sound, again reminiscent of Steely Dan, but a bit rougher keeping the alternative edge there. There are some great Neo-prog sounds in there, the music staying a bit unpredictable, as it should, just staying on the more complex side so the music is challenging enough, yet still accessible enough to generate interest. As it continues, though, and reaches the last few minutes, it gets quite intense and ends up producing a very rousing and exciting guitar solo to end the album with.

This album ends up begin quite enjoyable when it's all said and done, easy enough to dive into as far as accessibility, yet interesting enough to make you want to keep coming back. It's a great combination, mostly of neo-progressive styles, but at times wavering on the Heavy Prog side of things. However, there are a few more standard feeling tracks here too, yet even those are filled with hooks and surprises that make them appealing also in the long-range likeability of the album. It is all well mixed and produced with a good quality sound, yet has the polish buffed off to keep that raw, alternative edge to it throughout. The obvious inspiration from Steely Dan shines through at times on the tracks, but the music never feels dated, rather, it is quite current and thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end.

TCat | 4/5 |


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