Crooks on Tape - Fingerprint
If Fingerprint sounds both too familiar and too bold to be a debut release, it's likely due to the sonic signatures of Crooks on Tape leader John Schmersal and the impact his previous bands have had on non-commercial American music. Schmersal played guitar in Dayton, OH’s synthpunk saviors, Brainiac. Later he helmed Enon, a band whose long and prolific run makes them indie heavyweights in their own right. Still, as ample and undeniable as Enon's catalog is, Crooks on Tape finds Schmersal at an inspirational peak not summited since Brainiac's 1996 classic Hissing Prigs in Static Couture.
Schmersal doesn't conquer this newfound peak alone. He's joined here by fellow Enon alum Rick Lee (also a member of Skeleton Key) and Joey Galvan. The resulting trio originally improvised this music, most of it instrumental. Fingerprint was years in the making, with the band cutting and pasting their original tracks into proper songs, adding lyrics and vocals later.
The record gets away with a radical eclecticism, gluing disparate sounds together with thick, brooding analog synths and cavernous fuzz tones. It sometimes sounds like a revolution in industrial rock. At other times it sounds like an avant-garde group with an uncanny knack for keeping things interesting. It also occasionally comes off as a twisted and drugged-out take on dance-pop.
Fingerprint’s opener “Duper” drew me in right away with its manic vocals, kitchen sink beat drops, and onslaughts of inventive noise. There is something to be said for starting an album off with a surefire killer. The driving and sprawling “If Feelings Mean a Thing” is nearly as strong. “Tito's Riser” follows, focusing on the group’s cerebral ambitions.
“The Regiments” is ruthlessly catchy and danceable. It also sports some sick blown-out synth-bass. Between hooks the song devolves into something half-evil and pulsating. A one-minute interlude, “Melting the Ice” is valuable if for no other reason than to draw attention to the album's creative range.
“Summer's End” is a soothing mess of mellow punctuated by a punchy and mechanical bass. The heaviest track follows. “River Bait”, a near blues-metal rocker, is elevated by the grooved interplay between its bass and fuzzy guitar chords. “A Hazmat Dream” is an absolute head-nodder, featuring what is either a masterfully glitched-out guitar solo or a 56K modem possessed by the ghost of Muddy Waters.
Fingerprint’s finale is its longest track, “Barging In”. Though its chillness and concrete hooks are somewhat at odds with my idea of anything related to Brainiac, it’s a strong composition and a good song to close out the record.
Brainiac, then Enon, now Crooks on Tape. Are we allotted a third act in life? In the case of Mr. Schmersal it certainly seems so. Brainiac and Enon make a case for this band’s credibility. Fingerprint makes a case for its relevance.
Crooks on Tape