By Victoria Karol
Perhaps because many members of Johnny Cremains are in prolific local metal/punk bands, Cremains often gets unfairly thrown into the heavy metal bucket; it’s true, there are certainly elements of metal on their second album, Hollywoodland, but it would be a disservice to the creativity and narrative strength of Hollywoodland to just call it a metal album. It’s a concept album, it’s art rock, it’s heavy and electronic, it’s throwbacky and futuristic, and despite the mix wanting for a few tweaks (it just sounds old) to bring out the truth of what’s really going on here, it’s one of my favorite albums, full stop.
In fact, I take it back — the far-away-sounding production might be intentional. Hollywoodland was inspired by the suicide of actress Peg Entwistle, who jumped to her death off the Hollywood sign in 1932 at the age of 24. That’s an unsettling place to begin a story, but Cremains travels from there to visit with Lee Harvey Oswald, encounter deadly beasts in the African desert, witness some murders and find themselves the protagonists in a horror romance, among other stops through time and space wherein the unifying characteristic is grim, resigned danger.
The music is carefully constructed to frame this sweeping mid-century journey. Opener “Glass Necklace” most closely resembles the band’s self-prescribed genre, “doom-wop”; it’s a husky bully of a song, and frontman Sean Libby croons through it via a wormhole from 1952. His voice is what The Cure’s Robert Smith might sound like if he had gotten into horror films instead of manic-depression and lipstick. The album’s two most “metal” songs, “USO” and “Sahara Nightmare,” are also two of the trippiest, slipping from dark, driving chords to big, airy soundscapes more reminiscent of Pink Floyd than Black Sabbath. The band’s obsession with theatricality shines through best on “The Howling Is for You” and album closer “Hollywoodland,” giving each player a moment to step forward and take a bow, and Libby a chance to show off his high register, pouring one out for the ghost of Freddie Mercury. The whole affair is weird, and sad, and fun, and it would take hours to explain it properly. Just go listen to the thing, already.
RIYL: “One Summer Night” by the Danleers; true crime; Twin Peaks; Sparklehorse’s Dark Night of the Soul