Crooks on Tape – Fingerprints

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Rating: ★★★ · ·

Fingerprints is the debut album from Crooks on Tape, a psych-pop group out of Dayton, Ohio.  While they are a fairly new band, two of their three members played together previously for over a decade in indie rock outfit Enon.  Fingerprints contains twelve songs collected from hundreds of hours of improvisational recordings.  The results are intriguing, if a bit unfocused.  

Individually, the songs on Fingerprints are fairly repetitive.  There are catchy, nearly danceable tunes such as “Duper”, songs built on mind-scrambling vocal loops such as those on “Tito’s Riser”, and a couple of more mellow tracks in “Summer’s End” and “Barging In”.  Taken together, they form a lighthearted, very sample heavy pop record that should reward multiple listens.

Texture, on this record, is established more through effects than song structure.  Everything, including the vocals, has a slightly muddied, dreamy tone.  The drums are kept light throughout, letting the bass and synthesizers come through the strongest.  While there are a few very alternative, 90s sounding guitar parts, Crooks on Tape spend most of their time here working through bubbling and/or pulsing synths.

One of my slight hang-ups about this band is that the vocals and lyrics often feel like an after-thought.  On most of these songs the vocals are somewhat muffled and low in the mix, and I found it very difficult to make out any of the lyrics on a first listen.  The vocalist has a nice range, and a higher register somewhat reminiscent of James Mercer’s falsetto, but there’s just something missing.  For the most part, these songs don’t have strong melodies, and the vocals never really feel important to the structure of the songs.  There’s also something of a sense of discontinuity about the record, owing to the constantly varying effects on the bass and different synth tones from song to song.

My favorite parts of the album are when the band turns up the delay and establishes a mellower, more contemplative atmosphere as they do with “Summer’s End”, which also feels like their strongest bit of songwriting.  Here, the vocals are a bit higher in the mix, and the tension of some of their faster songs is absent.  Altogether, Fingerprints is a solid, inviting debut from a new voice in the psych-pop landscape.    

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