Review Summary: A contradiction of a musician carrying an incredible willingness to experiment in one hand, but championing something we've all heard before with the other.
Chino Moreno of Deftones fame has always been a little different from his peers. Originally lumped in with Nu-Metal groups like Korn, he and his band found ways to seperate themselves from the pack by drawing as much influence from bands like The Cure as they did from the traditionally influential metal and hard rock artists. Now, in 2011, six albums into their career, they have effectively eschewed that often detrimental Nu-Metal label and transcended the expectations of many critics time and time again. So what's next for Chino's band? Well, nothing, for now. It just so happens to be side project time.
This isn't the first time this has happened. Chino originally wandered into this dangerous territory with 2005's Team Sleep, a project that produced a self-titled album that successfully explored the more ethereal, laid back side of Chino's songwriting. This time, we get Crosses, a collaboration with Far guitarist Shaun Lopez, and some guy named Scott Chuck. Yeah, it's probably best not to call this joint venture a super group. It's really best viewed as a Chino Moreno lead side project, equipped with a thin veil of experimentalism to cover over the fact that he's digging through the same bag of tricks that he has throughout most of his career... but is that really a bad thing?
From the opening seconds of lead track, "This is a Trick," you can tell that beats and electronics are going to win out over guitars here. This isn't to say that guitars are completely absent. For instance, "Option" boasts a fairly unique, bouncy riff, and "thholyghst" has a quiet, melancholic guitar intro. However, if you were expecting guitars to dominate the sound, look elsewhere, because here, they serve as mere garnishments to the rest of the music... and the rest of the music is pretty good. Previously mentioned "This is a Trick" is a creeper of a song, seemingly uninteresting in it's first impression, but increasingly captivating and danceable on repeated listens. "Option" has the type of riff that often carries a song throughout it's entire running length, but luckily, the band is smart enough to relinquish it's momentum to delve into a more introspective, ambient section before giving way to an enthralling and uplifting outro. "Bermuda Locket" recalls some of the experimental touches of "Saturday Night Wrist" with it's eerie synth lines, and "thholyghst" blends haunting verses with a chorus that sounds like it could turn the song into a mainstream success, but probably won't when coupled with it's darker verses, even though the marriage between the two makes a lot of musical sense and sounds great within the context of the album. The short EP then draws to the close with the instrumental song that is titled simply with the symbol of a cross. It's a nice, mood-setting piece that feels necessary to close the EP, so it's best not to dismiss it as filler, but it does feel like a bit of an afterthought when compared to the rest of the tracks.
Wait, what about the vocals? I'll go on the record right here and say that Chino Moreno is one of my favorite front men in modern rock. He's best when he's mixing his soaring, relaxed vocal style with his more chaotic, abrasive screams to create a sort of dynamism within his music that is similar in concept to the famous soft/loud/soft song structure popularized by Nirvana. This vocal style is so addicting, very listenable, and quite capable of cutting to the core of the listener that allows it to. It's not entirely unique, but Chino utilizes this style in a way that makes it distinctive. When Chino is singing, you know for a fact that it's him. In a lot of ways, this is a great thing... but the Deftones have been around for a while. There are six albums where you can hear Chino singing like this, and now there is an EP, too. On "This is a Trick," his venomous screams in the chorus are flourished by a quiet and subversive seductivity in the verses, and he all but picks up "thholyghst" and bears it's 10-ton weight on his shoulders with a huge, anthemic chorus. These sorts of discriptions may sound like compliments, but they bare elements of complaint, too. That's because the idea of the Crosses project innately contains a contradiction of a musician carrying an incredible willingness to experiment in one hand, but championing something we've all heard before with the other. It's great to see Chino as a part of this project, daring to look past the tired-yet-true guitar/bass/drums/vocals band format, but his vocals still keep hold of the music with an iron grip. They dominate this EP, and when I walk away from it, I'm mostly thinking about how impressed I was with the way Chino sounded... and since he's sounded the same way with the Deftones for a while now, it's hard to think about these two bands as seperate entities.
There is enough quality in the material present on this EP to keep me very interested in this project. The potential is nearly overflowing, but that potential is in danger of going unharvested. This band could go on releasing albums and EP's of this same caliber, and chances are I would buy the music and (relatively) enjoy it. However,that would be a bit of a shame, because as good as Chino sounds on this release, I truly hope that he finds a way to advance his vocal work in a way that allows the rest of the music to shine through, innovate, and experiment the way I expect a side project like this to, because, let's face it... at this point, I might as well just be listening to Deftones.