By Michael B. Murphy
Clearly an ardent believer of the old proverb, “Tis a lesson you should heed/Try, try, try again/If at first you don’t succeed/Try, try, try again,” vocalist and musician Chino Moreno has tried several times to create a musical side project as compelling as the band he has fronted for over 20 years – The Deftones.
There was Team Sleep – a quasi-experimental alternative group that dipped its toes in the genres of trip-hop, shoegaze and post-rock – which featured drummer Zach Hill of the brilliant industrial hip-hop group Death Grips. Team Sleep’s only album was a commendable, yet ultimately forgettable, first attempt by Moreno to forge a creatively divergent path for himself, far from the often aggressive and jagged sounds of The Deftones.
“Forgettable” is also an apt description for Palms – yet another Moreno side project. Palms’ self-titled debut was eagerly anticipated by heavy music fans as it not only featured Moreno but also three members of the foreword-thinking metal band Isis. Though at times beautiful and intriguing, Palms’ sonic journey was clearly piloted by the members of Isis and sounded as though Moreno was just along for the ride.
With such lackluster side projects, no fan of Moreno’s would have held it against him if he had decided to give up entirely on participating in musical acts outside the critically and commercially successful Deftones.
As actor and comedian W. C. Fields famously said, when he parodied the proverb mentioned earlier, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”
Thankfully, Moreno proved his aspirations of forming a musical project outside of The Deftones were not as foolish as many of his fans were beginning to think when he and Shaun Lopez – former guitarist for the now defunct band Far – created Crosses in 2011.
For the group’s first two years of existence, they dropped two EPs that made many Moreno fans take notice. With visually striking album covers featuring total witch-house aesthetic and imagery – three prominent baby-pink colored crosses set against a dreary backdrop of black and white photography – Crosses seemed to be the perfect vehicle for Moreno’s non-Deftones ambitions. However, the question remained if Moreno and Lopez could bring the goods on a full-length album.
Crosses’ self-titled debut LP – released this week – is an emphatic middle-finger to those who have doubted Moreno’s ability to create a side project that’s creatively on par with Deftones. If there is one caveat regarding Crosses’ album, it’s that many fans familiar with the band’s material may be disappointed to discover that two-thirds of the LP features previously released tracks from their earlier EPs. However, the band is able to sequence the 10 older tracks with the :ve new tracks in such a way that each song Wows nicely into the next and the album feels cohesive.
A self-confessed fan of 80’s gothic new wave such as The Cure and Cocteau Twins, Moreno’s musical influences have left their fingerprints all over Crosses – even his love for Sade-inspired R&B is prevalent. Go ahead, tap your foot and bob your head to the tracks “The Epilogue” and “Prurient,” no one will make fun of you.
Though the disparity between sounds on the album are large – the bouncing, upbeat neo-disco funk of “Telepathy” should sound jarring when juxtaposed with the menacingly erotic “Bitches Brew” – “Crosses” never feels like a collection of random songs. Moreno’s vocals, along with looping drums, keyboards and electronica keep the album’s 15 tracks united – as do the themes of sex and melancholy that permeate throughout every song.
While not a complete home run, “Crosses” is a solid debut that leaves its listeners asking for more. More importantly, the album is a moment of triumph for Moreno as he has finally silenced his critics.