Get lost in another dimension on Crooks On Tape’s debut album, Fingerprint.
Misra Records, 2013
6.9 / 10
Crooks On Tape is born from the ashes of two bands where band member John Schmersal served as an integral part. While playing with the much loved Dayton rock act Braniac, he experienced not only the loss of a band but also a bandmate as frontman Tim Taylor was killed in a car crash in 1997. Schmersal would go on to start the post-punk act Enon that lasted 12 years until 2011. Always known for his eccentric soundscapes, Schmersal is prepared to submerge listeners in a weird world once again with his new project Crooks On Tape. Joining Schmersal is former Enon bandmate Rick Lee and Joey Galvan to wreak havoc in an improvisational, spastic manner on the debut album, Fingerprint.
Part art project, part band1, Crooks On Tape’s music is born from improvisation. Fingerprint is the product of hundreds of hours of material — a bit insane considering the album’s final runtime of 33+ minutes2. To experience Fingerprint is like getting lost in another dimension of dreamy and nightmarish whimsy without knowing how to find your way home. Album opener “Duper” makes this immediately clear with its looped anthem of madness heard among a sea of electronic sci-fi bleeps and bloops. The instrumentation on Fingerprint is reminiscent of experimental projects like Deerhoof and Battles; however, Schmersal’s vocals (often performed with a dynamite falsetto) swing the songs into R&B and pop environments. What he’s actually saying isn’t always easy to decipher among the chaos, but the gist of the song is easy to determine.
When Schmersal’s voice is crystal clear (as on the romantic stunner “Summer’s End”), it’s an aggravating tease as Fingerprint’s songs often end just as they’re getting good. The only songs that don’t suffer from these bait-and-switch moments are the instrumental pieces like “Tito’s Riser” or “Milo’s Creeper”. Here, the band showcases their world of weird — “Milo’s Creeper” uses bird chirps, funky bass licks, clangy percussion, hornlike synths, and robot frog wah wahs to get under your skin the right way. It’s unfortunate that their vocal accompanied songs aren’t as fleshed out. Instead, Fingerprint sounds like an audition tape of what the band is capable of, and it has left me wanting more.
1. Hold the groaning please. Here, it works.
2. Rick Lee and Joey Galvan to Schmersal, “You made us do all that for just 33 minutes of material?!”