The debut album by the Louisiana "drum pop" band draws listeners into to its cross-culture fusion with the human touches.
Sweet Crude debuted its video for “Mon Esprit” from its new Créatures at MarieClaire.com, which tells us two useful things. First, the band believes it may have an audience outside of the indie world, and that the video, song, and Sweet Crude might register with the young women who read the fashion magazine. Second, the band identifies “Eno-era Talking Heads” as one of its influences. The interview focused on the production of those albums, but thinking about Remain in Light helps open up one of the best albums to come out of New Orleans so far this year.
Créatures is a cross-cultural project, but instead of merging Western and African music, Sweet Crude draw from pop, rock, and Cajun music. This has been the band’s project since it started in 2013, though it has become less doctrinaire over time. Now English and Cajun French sometimes share verses or even lines, K-pop style. Cajun French lyrics don’t make the songs Cajun music, and just as nothing on Remain in Light truly sounds African, nothing on Créatures sounds Cajun. On 2014's Super Vilaine EP, Sweet Crude recorded a percussive take on The Balfa Brothers’ “Parlez-nous a boire,” but little in Sam Craft’s violin would be mistaken for a Cajun fiddle. Ironically, the percussive elements that signified Africa on Remain in Light evoke American rock and pop music since hip-hop’s influence is almost ubiquitous.
Drawing too straight a line to Talking Heads is dangerous though. First, the band identified other influences as well—Electric Light Orchestra, Regina Spektor, and New Orleans’ brass bands—and Sweet Crude has a less complicated relationship with pleasure. Fun seemed to surprise David Byrne throughout Remain in Light, whereas Craft, Alexis Marceaux and the rest of the group embrace it. Fun is hard-wired into the playful title “Laissez Les Lazy,” and the exuberant “Weather the Waves” surges with joy each time the shouted, a cappella vocals introduce the chorus.
Créatures isn’t all orange soda and anime. The yelped, ecstatic moments are balanced by emotionally grounded ones. Marceaux makes the singer’s internal struggle palpable in “Mon Esprit,” even though the lyric is entirely in Cajun French, and the massed voices that sing “Ma generation” en français in “Finger Guns” convey the sense that something larger is at stake. When “Isle Dans La Mer” gets through the wordless melody, Craft sings with a sense of purpose reinforced by the sudden, stomping insistence of the arrangement that together articulates clearly how much the thought matters to him, and his passion brings listeners into the moment.
I saw Sweet Crude recently when it played NOCCA’s gala recently, and the scene triggered another realization. Some if not all of the members are NOCCA grads, and perhaps for that reason Créatures can be a bit Glee-ish in its buoyant theatricality. It’s measured and I’d say under control, but those who like their rock angsty might find Sweet Crude and the album a little too bright. Still, theatricality’s always on trend in the city where everybody has a costume drawer, box or closet, and for that reason as well as the personality with which Sweet Crude executes its music, the band has been easy to root for. Créatures is the moment when the belief in the band paid off.
In 2013, Sam Craft talked with My Spilt Milk about the origins of Sweet Crude.