Few bands can boast the amount of ‘includes ex-members of’ tags that Crooks on Tape can. Formed in LA sometime in 2010, the Crooks boast Enon, Brainiac, Caribou, Skeleton Key and Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash amongst their previous and current acts. And there’s only three members in the band. In the playground, they definitely win the ‘my dad is bigger than your dad’ argument. But as we all know, these things can either count for much or for little when it comes to starting a new project. So can they they deliver?
Crooks on Tape reared their head a while ago with a taster track, albums opener Duper. It is classic Schmersal and sounds most like Enon than anything else the record has to offer. It’s catchy and quirky in equal measures. Pure twisted pop served straight up. After the formalities, once we know they can still write great junk-indie tunes, things start to get a little strange.
As the album moves on, on tracks like Titso’s Riser, we see where Crooks on Tape’s philosophy starts to come in. They are described as ‘half band, half art project’ and they record everything they do. It has always been evident in previous bands that both Schmersal and Lee have a passion for junk and found-sound. The album is littered with odd noises and samples which presumably came up either by mistake or are the fortunate result of experimentation and later found amongst the countless hours of recorded material that band managed to accumulate over time. ‘Record everything’ is their motto. What they do with it is sometimes amusing and whimsical, other times amazing. Melting The Ice, lasting just less than one minute, is a cacophony of sounds. They open the closet door and it all tumbles out, Schmersal layering vocals over the top.
Crooks on Tape have described this as their pop record, with more weirdness to follow. There are some tracks which lay closer to the pop roots of previous projects. River Bait lays down a huge synth bass riff, which creates the foundation for pop experimentation but also keeps the structure simple and linear. The more traditional songs never come in pairs though. Straight after Rive Bait we are treated to Milo’s Creeper – a weird-out funk jam. It seems like the Crooks are eager to keep us on our toes. Later on Barging In sees the Crooks get all soulful, a touch of the 80s, and is a strange and nicely surprising way to bring them album to its end.
As debut albums go, from new bands formed from old, this is one which is mightily impressive. There is not a dull moment, not a wasted sound. Nothing is done just to be different, it is done because it’s interesting, because it’s a protest against the mundane. Fingerprint is an oddity, a freak, a celebration of all sounds that get left-behind, ignored or passed on. An outstanding, courageous debut.
Fingerprint is out now on Misra Records