'New Skin' by CRX, album review by Gregory Adams




New Skin

The Strokes haven’t exactly been quiet this year, the New York band having issued their Future Present Past EP back in the spring and purportedly putting work into a new LP, but guitarist Nick Valensi has opted to spend the end of 2016 cranking his amp with a brand new project: CRX.

It’s been 15 years since the release of the Strokes iconic, rock-changing Is This It?, and Valensi is the last hold-out to release outside material from the successful band. In pre-release interviews he noted that he wanted to take CRX–also featuring members of Guards and the Reflections–into a decidedly more aggressive direction than he’s used to, citing Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All as being as much of an influence as the Cars. With the self-reflectively-titled New Skin, CRX’s first full-length proves that this is just as bizarre a musical mash-up as you’d imagine.

Opener “Ways to Fake It” is a safe gambit to bring the Strokes lovers in. The song meshes together early ’80s power pop licks, a few new wave synth sounds and drum machine claps behind Valensi’s fine, if unremarkable vocals about keeping up a facade. While the track is a bit too timid, the formula, which isn’t too far off from his established act’s post-Angles output, is a bit stickier on push-and-pull relationship number “Anything.”

Queens of the Stone Age mastermind Josh Homme worked behind the boards on the 10-song New Skin, and like his own band’s work, it features a thick and sublime mix. Valensi and co. also seem to have a thing for the producer’s songwriting style, having affixed a QOTSA-type approach to heavier numbers like “Broken Bones.” That track is one of the mildly more successful stomp outs, a distorted desert rock piece that wouldn’t seem out of place on a playlist with the macabre guitar anthems off of Homme’s …Like Clockwork songbook. “Give It Up,” however, is a clunkier number full of brutish gutter glam riffs, haunted house organs and sinewy falsetto lines. The settle-for-this lyric “It’s never going to be what you want it to be, so give it up for me” is horrifyingly bleak.

With its nerve-shattering moto-metal guitar play and panicked drum machine beats, “Walls” punches forth like an early ’00s racing video game soundtrack crossed with the Strokes’ “Juicebox,” a particularly dubious single from 2006’s First Impressions of Earth. A discordant, ascending jazz metal skronk is just barely audible beneath the “Peter Gunn” surf/spy rock mutation of the equally unappealing “Unnatural.”

“Monkey Machine” maybe gets a bit of that Metallica vibe into it with a one-two thrash beat, though it mostly rests on a twisted carnival vibe. Despite taking the Strokes guitarist into a weird new direction, it comes with another of the album’s many dour Valensi-isms: “I’m tired of changing when it’s the same in the end.”

The vibrant, neon pink album cover to CRX’s debut pictures a gangly, anthropomorphic tiger dressed up in human clothes and clutching a baseball bat. A gigantic, gnarled-up bone sticks through the belt-loop of its too-skinny jeans. A leather jacket, sporting song titles, creeps halfway up its back. Its new skin, if you will, has an awkward fit.

– review by Gregory Adams