Chino Moreno has been chasing something elusive for quite some time now. In countless interviews over the years, he has alluded to a desire to move away from the traditional hard rock elements that define his work with the Deftones in favor of crafting something more akin to the music he listens to in his spare time. That music, ranging from artists such as Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine to genres such as ambient, shoegaze, and electronic, seem like a natural fit for the singer. After all, the Deftones’ 2000 effort, White Pony, flirted with the sounds of many of those artists and genres to great results – so much so that the album stands today as the band’s sole masterwork.
Moreno took his first real stab at fulfilling his desire shortly after the release of White Pony. If that record was Moreno merely testing the water, side project Team Sleep, he promised, was going to be the full submersion. It was going to be that record – the one that eschewed the more familiar sonic tendencies of the Deftones in favor of something wholly foreign. And you know what? He got pretty damn close to making it. In 2002, an unfinished version of Team Sleep’s debut album was widely distributed across the internet, and it impressively captured everything Moreno had alluded to. The record was dark, dreamy, surreal, and haunting – a full-length sequel to the musical space that had been introduced in White Pony’s more off-kilter numbers like “Teenager.”
But when Team Sleep’s debut finally arrived in 2004, it was neutered beyond the point of recognition – a run-of-the-mill rock record lightyears away from the surreal dream rock of the original version. Moreno and his band mates had reworked the entire record as a response to their frustration at the early leak. Since its release, the project has gone silent – leading many to assume it has been abandoned completely.
Enter Moreno’s new outfit, Crosses. As evidenced within the two EPs the band has released thus far, Crosses appears to be the continuation of where Moreno left off with Team Sleep. Unfortunately, much like that project, Crosses’ music never seems to fully capture the sound that Moreno and co. want to emulate. It’s a shame, really, because Moreno’s vocal approach – a sort of spectral croon that often sounds otherworldly – really begs to find itself surrounded by the atmosphere found within the type of genres Moreno constantly cites as influences.
But where Crosses fail in their attempts to capture that sort of sonic identity is easy to pinpoint – they don’t push themselves far enough. Their music isn’t as strange, or alien, or off-kilter as they want it to be, and as often as the band inhabit the ethereal sonic territory of artists such as the Cocteau Twins (“Trophy”), they just as quickly fall back on the more traditional sounds and song structures of your everyday rock band (“Prurient”). Crosses never fully commit to the sound that is their primary selling point, and because of this, both EPs come across as frustrating teases for what could be, but never fully is. EP † and †† is the work of a band still very much trying to find their sound – a mix of interesting ideas that are either never fully realized or too quickly abandoned to hold any sort of resonance.
Putting aside where Crosses falls flat, there is some strength here. Both EPs have great opening tracks, and other cuts, such as EP †‘s “Option” and “Thholyghst,” with their huge choruses and tight construction, are too easily likable to resist. But Crosses’ greatest success may also be the very thing that saves them from suffering the same fate as their spiritual predecessor. There’s a focus within these tracks – a synergy that is a far cry from the stitched-together collaborative vibe that Team Sleep’s labored debut gave off. It’s enough to give the project an air of potential that Team Sleep never really had during its short existence. There’s a chance, however fleeting, that Moreno has finally found the band that can capture the sound that’s been eluding him for all of these years. It’s obviously there somewhere – Crosses just need to look harder.