To describe the music of Crystal Skulls’ debut, Blocked Numbers, is to compare it to the clouds that float on its cover; it rises to sonorous heights of pop perfection. The album is full of lancing guitars, brooding keyboard and an ingenious rhythm section that gracefully accompanies lead singer/guitarist Christian Wargo’s sordid tales of relational woes.
When I first listened to the album, I kept waiting for a song that I wouldn’t like, but never found it. More than anything, I asked myself, “Where did these guys come from, and how did they pull off their debut so flawlessly?” So when I discovered that the band would soon be releasing a follow-up, I wondered in what ways they could possibly expand on their near-perfect formula.
Outgoing Behavior exhibits the type of evolution in sound you’d expect from a band that’s been around for a decade, not a couple of years. Yet Crystal Skulls have managed something by which many bands are toppled. They’ve maintained their posture and avoided the dreaded sophomore slump with rousing success.
An eerie keyboard intro quickly segues into ethereal arpeggiation on the opener (and title track) “Outgoing Behavior” as Wargo laments the perilousness of his shy streak. The title track retains the lounge aesthetic that characterized much of Blocked Numbers (and made it so catchy), while songs like “Baby Boy” glide along with a subtle slide guitar.
“The Cosmic Door” gallops at a funky pace that explodes into intricate guitar picking reminiscent of high-life music popularized in the ’70s. Imagine a version of the classic ’50s style break-up song for the 21st Century, complete with handclaps and parlor piano, and you get “Hey, It’s Easy.” And while tracks like “The Hold Up” and “Treat It Well” show the band’s intuitive dance floor sensibilities (while at the same time suggesting seductive undertones), there’s still plenty of room for more down-tempo tunes. “Heavy Sleeper,” a gently drummed lullaby, traipses with reverb and dream imagery. The simple acoustic strumming of “Move Me Alright” recalls the Beatles at their sentimental best with a poignancy that seems remarkably genuine and almost non-existent in pop music today.
The ample use of keys is much more prevalent in Outgoing Behavior. Harmonies abound throughout. Drummer Casey Foubert, bassist Yuuki Matthews and guitarist Ryan Phillips all contribute backing vocals on several tracks. Wargo and Phillips continue to improve on their dueling guitars and give Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd of Television a run for their money.
Closing track “Sedate & Satisfied” is likely to leave the listener feeling just as the title suggests. “All your dreams, they don’t seem to mind/ Shedding skin, giving in to your desires/ You let them slip, changing all the time/ Stretching thin, fitting them with new designs,” Wargo sings amidst high-pitched picking and a droning organ. While their music has certainly been fitted with a new design, its designers knew exactly what they were doing. With Outgoing Behavior, Crystal Skulls have begun building an impressive resume that gives plenty of genuflection to their influences and with enough ingenuity to outshine their contemporaries.
Spoon- Kill The Moonlight
The Coral- The Invisible Invasion
Television- Marquee Moon