Whatever you think of Chino Moreno and his love of varying styles of music, you have to admire his ability to apply his brilliant vocals to just about any type of music and keep them compelling. This time, Moreno teams up with childhood friend, and member of the band Far, Shaun Lopez and producer Chuck Doom to come up with a collection of songs whose sound is unique enough to defy proper categorization (even though Pitchfork referred to the project as a witch house one). While there is plenty here that conjures the dark atmospherics of Team Sleep and Deftones (sorry, even though this isn’t “witch house” words like “conjures” continue to pop up when referring to ††† (Crosses)), Moreno and company are more in NIN and Depeche Mode territory here than A Perfect Circle territory (Team Sleep was pretty much to Deftones as A Perfect Circle was to TooL).
Many of the songs on ††† (Crosses) were previously released on EPs in 2011 and 2012 (10 of the album’s 15 to be exact), but having them collected all together in one spot with the new material is nice, even if collecting them for resale is a moot point in this age of the ever manipulatable MP3 playlist. ††† (Crosses) is an album proper, and these tracks deserve to be compiled as such. Opening track, “This Is a Trick,” which originally appeared on EP 1, is a thumping, grinding malestrom of electronica forced along by a hellishly dragging guitar riff. “Telepathy,” with its popping baseline and electronic snarl masterfully conveys the intent of Monreno’s sinister lyrics, “I wasn’t going to play tonight/but I can’t help the feelings alive/As long as you play my game/I’ll let you in.” We can’t be sure if Moreno’s just on the clubbing/hook up hunt, or playing a darker game here. It’s classic Moreno. He often bounces between lover and killer with his highly interpretable lyrics, and we often don’t know which one he’s playing at.
“Bitches Brew” (again this is NOT…really…a witch house project-according to Moreno himself) is the track that most strongly echoes the darkness of Deftones tracks like “Change (In the House of Flies).” Also loaded with dark sexual references (albeit non-pornographic ones-Moreno likes to dance around the edge of explicicity) and, for added effect, a bit of moonlit wolfishness (which is more Underworld than Twilight), Moreno builds the vocal tension to the type of climax that allows him to unleash some of his trademark Deftones’ scream. “Bitches Brew” is the album’s strongest, and hardest, track, which also makes it the album’s best. “Thholyghst” keeps the creepiness level high, but is a track that works better than most on the album because of its unique combination of Depeche Mode mesh meets Deftone-ishly heavy guitar coupled with live drums and sprinkled with a dash of otherworldly synth.
From there on though the album begins to sag a little. The next track, “Trophy,” is a solid slow song though. It makes great use of acoustic guitar lines and radiant synth flourishes. Take away Moreno’s equally radiant vocals and you’ve got a that might be mistake for something off of the Sunshine soundtrack (which is one of the, if not THE, greatest movie soundtracks of all time). “Epilogue,” another new track, bounces along pliantly, but even some more of those pesky, yet interesting, Moreno double entendre lyrics can’t really rescue the track. It does have the second best baseline of any song on the album though. “Blk Stallion” employs a bit of a funkier beat, while slinging distorted guitar all over the soundscape. “Cross,” another previously released EP track, channels Trent Reznor’s signature atmospherics. “Death Bell” owes it’s sound to Reznor as well, but is a much more solid track than “Cross” is.
Overall, ††† (Crosses) is a solid side project by a group of musicians who are pretty adept at bending and blending musical genres in order to up with some interesting sounds. I’d like to see Moreno, Lopez, and Doom keep this project alive, or at least revisit it every few years. It has plenty of potential to be a great side project as opposed to being simply a solid one.