Repurposing surf rock for the modern day alongside a host of other styles, this Hungarian outfit burst with exuberant energy and verve
Fran Palermo is not an Italian musician as I had initially assumed when I first listened to this, but rather a band from another European nation, Hungary. It was formed in 2011 by its lead creative force Henri Gonzo, and though the band’s sound is largely considered to be indie rock, Gonzo and his bandmates relish in the addition of genres such as prog rock, afro-pop, Mediterranean folk, and more into their songs. This has helped establish them as a popular live band in the Budapest music scene, and since 2011 they have released a prolific four EPs and three LPs, and it is the most recent of the three full length albums, Crocodile Juice Bar, that we shall be concerning ourselves with today. Listening to the album one gets a good sense of the band’s style and how they like to go about creating music, and that’s to just throw everything and the kitchen sink at the songs and see what sticks. Luckily for them, what sticks is almost everything, as Crocodile Juice Bar manages to incorporate all its genres smoothly into one cohesive whole, though I would argue that the real spark of innovation here is not their indie rock basis, but another, older genre to which they appear to be harking back to.
“You could easily imagine this [album] absolutely rocking the crowd at any music venue.”
When one googles Fran Palermo, much is made of their mix of genres into their indie rock sound, and that certainly is true. They are an eclectic band with peripatetic tastes, but the one genre that defines much of Crocodile Juice Bar, which I have not seen spoken about elsewhere, is surf rock music. Think Dick Dale and the Del-Tones’ version of the Greek folk song Misirlou that plays over the opening credits of Pulp Fiction, or even Link Wray & The Waymen’s song Rumble. That kind of treble-heavy guitar sound is present and prevalent on many of the tracks of the album, and it provides another backbone for the music of the album besides indie music. Take Pomeline’s Bicycle, for example, a song which starts off slow and melancholy, almost like a prog rock overture you might hear on a Pink Floyd album, before it breaks into surf rock style riffage. That song is then followed by the space-age indie pop song Verve Verde, which makes good use of organs and synthesisers, as well as Gonzo’s soaring, echoey vocals, creating a transcendent song that deliberately evokes church music to invoke in the listener a sense of reverential awe. Immediately we are then taken into Jeopardy, which hammers the listener with an energetic drum roll and a full-blooded riff that Dick Dale would have been proud of. Of course, this is not 1959. The songs are not pure surf rock, and nor should they be. The chorus is very indie rock, and the insertion of vocoded vocals as well as synths in the middle eight are a fun throwback to the 1980s pop scene, and altogether it sounds very Fran Palermo.
Though the surf rock influence is apparent on several other tracks, like Demons on the Beach, Under the Knife, and to a lesser extent Obsession, it is not the only thing that stands out about the album. A song like A-Aha lean towards hard rock, with a guitar solo straight out of the 80s rock scene, and it is one of the most fun songs on the album. You could easily imagine this absolutely rocking the crowd at any music venue, in Budapest or elsewhere. However, starting from Vermillion Fish onwards, the album begins to mellow, and from thereon in, the songs become more balladeering in an indie pop vein. Though I like this aspect of their music less than the tubthumping rock numbers, they’re still enjoyable, with the title track being the pick of the bunch here, with its melancholy guitar part adding so much to the song. It also helps to provide a contrast to the previous songs, and makes Crocodile Juice Bar an album with a lot of variety that helps keep up interest. Overall, it is a very organic collection of songs, all of which work together well and flit from genre to genre without a moment’s notice, but most of all, its an engaging and exciting listen throughout.