It’s been almost seven years since Johnny Cremains dropped their sophomore album, Hollywoodland, so maybe I just forgot the fact that struck me as a shocking revelation upon hearing their new EP, Buried Alive: this is pop music.
“Blasphemy!” you say? “How can a supergroup comprised of five of the heaviest metalheads in town make a pop record?” I have no idea, and yet here I am walking around with a song called “Markovian Parallax Denigrate” stuck in my head. “In the short rise of all A.I. / Insurgence is grown in future R.O.M.,” Sean Libby croons on the chorus of that track. The meaning is obscure, but the hook is tremendous, as catchy as anything blasting on Portland’s “hit” radio station these days.
Of course, no pop station would dare to play Buried Alive. It’s a dark, brooding, in places downright disturbing collection of four strangely beautiful songs, the first of three installments in Cremains’ new project, Tragic At Best (the next two are expected later this year). Yet it’s chock full of hooks; filthy with ’em, actually. There’s cello and violin on these recordings, courtesy of Devon Coletta and Sarah Mueller, respectively. Hell, Portland indie-pop queen Renée Coolbrith sings on this thing!
We can blame Erik Winter (formerly of The Horror), the mad genius at the keyboard. Even though guitar maestro Doug Porter (Covered in Bees, Confusatron) is in this band (along with bassist David Joy, late of Sunrunner, and drummer Adam Cogswell, also of the ’tron), Winter’s playing defines these songs, and vies solely with Libby, who sounds like David Bowie’s lower register on a bender, for sonic dominance. Winter draws from a very deep bag: rock, jazz, classical, lounge, Broadway, Hollywood, saloon music, pop.
I know what “Buried Alive” is about (it’s self-explanatory), but how a song with such a dark subject can be, alternately, so dreamy, jaunty, and soaring is beyond me. The woman in “Hotel Cecil” may also be trying to bust out of a tomb, but in a chorus catchier than Omicron Libby informs us “there’s no goddamn way she could ever lift that door herself.” You’ll have plenty of time to ponder that mystery as this ear worm slowly eats your brain. You’re welcome.