Sometimes when a band breaks up, its members go on to obscurity, either as studio musicians, a behind-the-scenes producer, or someone who just made stuff that nobody ever heard. Marc Moreland was one of the latter, and this ex-Wall of Voodoo and ex-Pretty & Twisted man teamed up with Sheldon Ferguson and Frederika to create the very 80's sounding Plan 9 from Las Vegas as Department of Crooks. It has great guitar work, a theremin, excellent vocals, and a sense that the people behind this are having a good time and put some real thought into it. Can you ask for more? No. No you can't. Some review sites categorize this as hip hop or urban, but due to its sounding like Wall of Voodoo, They Might Be Giants, and 80's rock, this seems to be a mistake.
The album's vocals alternate between Moreland and Ferguson, with Moreland providing a dark, growling sound next to a very They Might Be Giants-ish nasal sound from Ferguson. In many cases, it sounds like John Linnel could be guesting under a pseudonym, but the album's production values pretty much nix that idea quickly. Like many decent indie records, the tracks are often esoteric journeys through sound like "Aunt Sadie's House," where a childlike chorus of "nyah nyah nyah" opens the track with off-beat clappnig and what sounds like a tuba. It's atypical of the album's sound, but you just have to appreciate a track that's ljust a bunch of people screwing around.
There's a few instrumental tracks thrown in to the mix, like the very spiffy "Plan 9 from Las Vegas" which thrives with a theremin, piano, and some excelent guitar work. Of Man or Astro-Man ever did a joint project with Wall of Voodoo, it'd sound like this. "X-Ray Vision" is a song that has lyrics that pretty much sum it up-- "I'm just a guy with X-Ray vision."
For a three piece band, the Crooks manage to travel a variety of soundscapes and the end result is an album that sounds like it was assembled by the masters of whatever kind of music this is. It's not exactly a scattered sound, as it sounds like all the tunes were cut from the same cloth. The cloth, however, seems to be fairly diverse, and it's hard not to wonder what kind of stuff didn't make the album.
Fans of slightly off-beat new wave music should probably track this one down. As most things reviewed on this site so far, if you like Devo, Oingo Boingo, or the like, you'll want this too. It's available at a few online record stores and, of course, discount bins at some used record stores. Our review copy was purchased for $0.10 and, at the time, we had no idea what it was. The cover art and low price point made it an interesting prospect, and as it's a really fun album, we hope that it finds its audience since it got limited promotion and is now fairly old-- I mean, 1997. That was ages ago.
(A quick look on eBay shows several CDs for roughly a penny with no bids, and several ended auctions for $0.01 + shipping. It's a good deal if you can get it.)
February 9, 2004