Fingerprints, Crooks on Tape’s three-years-in-the-making debut, is a peculiar document. At roughly 35 minutes, the songs it comprises represent the barest tip of an ocean liner-sinking berg made not of ice, but of hundreds of hours of studio time. This great squirming mass of improvisation was then chopped up and molded into a series of two- to four-minute pop songs for John Schmersal (Brainiac, Enon) to lay vocals over. Process-wise, it sounds not so different from Wolf Parade’s approach to At Mount Zoomer, although the end product is decidedly more bent.
Those familiar with Schmersal’s CV — his guitar work for the groundbreaking Brainiac and his genre-trampling 10-year reign in Enon — shouldn’t have any trouble finding their bearings in Fingerprints. While it eschews the guitar-heavy, back-to-basics post-punk of Enon’s swansong Grass Geysers…Carbon Clouds, it provides a logical fulfillment of the earlier band’s flirtations with electronic music, an album of spiritual successors to songs like Believo!’s “Matters Grey” or “Nightmare of the Atomic Men” from Lost Marbles and Exploded Evidence.
In keeping with this legacy, the songs vary greatly in mood and in texture, and even when two songs find the band working in similar modes, the end results often feel very different. Compare, for instance, the almost whimsical, machine-processed disco of album opener “Duper” to the decidedly more dour funk of “The Regiments.” Other tracks dabble in Krautrock (“Wandered Again”), fractured R&B (“Melting the Ice,” Barging In”), and almost Muse-like indie prog (“If Feelings Mean a Thing”).
Fingerprints is a solid front-to-back listen, but I find myself most attracted to its extremes. The unapologetic hookiness of the aforementioned “Duper” makes it the album’s MVP by a longshot, but creepy slow-jam “Summer’s End” will likely keep you coming back to its Lynchian weirdness. For better or for worse, though, a fair amount of the songs sound like Mahjongg b-string material. Schmersal et al. have billed this as their “pop album” and promised stranger things to come. Given the group’s penchant for sculpting bizarre soundscapes into whatever shape fits their nefarious purposes, it’s a promise we should all look forward to them delivering on.