Be Good, the first full-length release from confused indie rockers Cross Record, opens with three minutes of tenuous bass mumblings. It sounds both inescapably fragile and powerfully creepy, and that’s a feeling that carries itself through the album’s whole runtime. Even in the most dramatic, grandiose moments, there’s a constant sense that this is all some kind of pose, as if everything could fall apart if you pressed the wrong buttons.
Cross Record are masters of atmosphere, and, in addition to the fragility they summon, there’s also a palpable cloud of grimness passing over the whole album. The instrumentation constantly retains a sense of hazy ambiguity. It’s assisted by the lyrics, which always feel masterfully curated to summon both visceral emotion and atmosphere. There’s a moment in Cups in the Sink where everything slows down and the lyrics repeat the words, “Let me go/Please just let me go.” Emily Cross’ vocals fall somewhere in between Joanna Newsom and Chelsea Wolfe, and when she’s putting forth indictments as searing and brutal as that, another truth comes to mind; Be Good is absolutely terrifying music.
This terror is perhaps captured most powerfully on late-album highlight Dirt Nap. It builds up through an increasingly punishing pattern of monastic drumming, before exploding into a series of harrowing sonic revelations. The track is only four minutes long, but more than anything else on Be Good, it feels like a comprehensive statement.
Dirt Nap’s strengths, however, highlight a whole lot of the album’s fundamental weaknesses. At around four-and-a-half minutes, it’s the longest track on Be Good, and it’s the only one that really gets the chance to thematically resolve. There’s a whole lot of really interesting stuff happening on the album, but it feels like Cross Record aren’t really working towards anything. The end result is more like a haunted house than an existential revelation – a superficially harrowing atmosphere hiding what is ultimately fundamentally contentless art.