(Heavy Psych Sounds)
When it comes to Crypt Trip’s Haze County, what you see with the album art is what you get with the music. Denim, motorcycles, a dirt country road and loads of hair: It’s all indicative of the southern retro rock sounds peddled by the San Marcos, Texas trio. Such outfits are hardly unique today, but Crypt Trip stand out from and above many of their contemporaries with a genuineness in the way they approach their sonic palette and the creativity of their songwriting. While these qualities certainly make it more likeable and interesting than any record by Wolfmother, Jet or Greta Van Fleet, inherent limits make it a struggle for the band to truly carve out its own niche in 2019. Haze County is more remarkable than it is memorable, road-tripping through the ‘70s and collecting souvenirs to build its own distinct collection. However, it ultimately ends up as an ephemeral and yes, hazy assortment of knick-knacks that recall days past.
By bassist Sam Bryant’s own admittance, Haze County is “all over the place, really”. While the album is a melting pot of influences, Allman Brothers Band seems to be the most obvious with its jam band leanings. However, while the Allmans made a point of creating memorable hooks for many of their winding compositions, Crypt Trip seems relatively unconcerned with them. Not that an album needs hooks to succeed, but without them it needs either atmosphere or technical composition to compensate.
This is where Haze County runs into problems. On the surface, every member is adept at their respective instruments and compositions are often framed like jazz pieces, but the hard rock riffs that drive these pieces frequently occupy a no-man’s land: too complex to be immediate, yet not complex enough to make one truly sink into deep listening. The album drifts from one to the next at a brisk clip, rarely building on its template in revelatory ways. It can be enjoyable to just let go and ride the cloud, so to speak, but it’s difficult to truly grasp that cloud.
Ryan Lee’s vocals also have some issues adapting to the new aesthetic. On previous records, Crypt Trip were perhaps more compositionally restrained but made more clever use of their toolkit. Lee’s voice is soft, clean, steady and even a bit reserved. But the last two qualities stifle his ability to achieve a soaring ramble and are more effective within the context of the band’s preceding soulful stoner rock, such as Rootstock’s “Natural Child”.
This isn’t to say Haze County is a bust. While most of the first two thirds fails to leave a lasting impact, this could be seen as a strong point. It may not be the first record you think to put on because you want to hear “that song” you already know by heart, but when you do put it on, it’s a good time. Beyond that, the last three songs do make more of an impression. “16 Ounce Blues” is a tight jaunty tune with beautiful steel pedal and Lee’s most confident vocal performance, likely aided by the song’s simplicity: he sounds less self-conscious of riding a complex instrumental. Next comes “Pastures,” an instrumental track led by acoustic guitar and once again steel pedal. The album ends on its strongest track, “Gotta Get Away”. Easily the most innovative song on the album, its successful merging of country rock, krautrock, stoner rock and jazz through its ambitious yet smart solo placements and re-visitations feels like the culmination of an album’s worth of idea work-shopping.
Haze County isn’t Crypt Trip’s best offering to date. Not enough of its material is sticky enough to make that claim, but it may be the most promising. This feels like a transitional effort where the aim was to really just find the target. To that end, it’s a success. “Gotta Get Away” is an excellent place to expound from, and the road to get there is full of intriguing twists and turns. It’ll be interesting to see where the band goes from here, but in the meantime, you could do worse for a jam rock throwback.
Favorite track: “Gotta Get Away”
This review was originally written for Spectrum Culture and later adapted for Counterzine.