Crimes release a dynamic second album
For Crimes frontman Andrew Jansen, becoming a father might have been just the thing to help shift his music up a notch. The Milwaukee transplant has long shown a restlessly experimental streak in projects like A Paper Cup Band and Dial-Up, bands borne from demo reels that jump from idea to idea and genre to genre. But his newfound responsibility seems to have brought Jansen the focus he's needed to tie it all together.
"It makes me have to find a way to make this work more," Jansen concedes, sitting at the Seward Cafe with his Crimes bandmates for a mid-morning breakfast. Jansen, his dirty-blond hair and beard both scruffy, his dress shirt a little too loose-fitting, pulls a baby picture out of his wallet and shows it off. "I could just do demo reel stuff," he says, "but I think it might just fall to the wayside if it's not important. Or else my wife might be like, 'This hobby sucks.'"
Crimes' second record, Thin Sunlight, hits an effective balance between unpredictability and consistent inspiration. Murky, dark, and mysterious, with songs that unfurl in gradual waves, each one a crest of trebly guitar tones and fractured voices, Sunlight also maintains a crucial experimental streak — like a cross between surf music and early Sonic Youth. (No minor compliment, it should be said.)
"This album feels like an album, whereas the last one was more a collection of songs," says lead guitarist Reese Hagy. In fact, the band say they strongly considered self-titling this record, but decided against it because it would be "really hard to find on the internet." Adds Hagy, "I think that comes from us finding a role in the band and what it means to be in a band. I know I'm never going to play a noodling guitar solo."
Far from that, however, Crimes started out as a bedroom project for Jansen. "I always wanted to be a in rock band," he says, "I just didn't know how to do it." When he first moved to the Twin Cities, Jansen says, he would open his house up for live shows — a means, in part, of meeting people. But to his mind, such shows were best-suited to folk music. "I think music, a lot of times, is based in spaces. You call it garage music or club music, so you pick a kind of music for the space you want to play in."
Encouraged by his friends to recruit a band, Jansen brought on Hagy as lead guitarist, as well drummer Luke Friedrich and bassist Hannah Fraser, who actually met him at a Paper Cup Band show at the Seward Cafe. They released their first full-length in the fall of 2011, but since then Jansen has split his time with Dial-Up, which went on hiatus when his wife — the keyboardist in that band — had their daughter. "It has to go in these waves because it's not really fair to be juggling two things and giving them 100 percent of my attention," he says with a shrug. "I can't really do that."
From the outset, Crimes' songs have tended toward the obscure, a fact reinforced by Jansen posting random crime stats on the band's MySpace page. That shadowy vibe lingers on now in the band's shows with the lights turned down, and in Jansen's cryptic lyrics. "They're meant to be [abstract]," he says. "The songs mean something to me, but I don't think you can just latch onto a train of thought and think you understand what's going on."
Sunlight, too, is all the more about dynamics: It's almost cinematic, with broad, sweeping gestures that lurch slowly from part to part. "There are a lot of chord progressions Andrew uses that I never would've come up with or even thought about using," Hagy admits. Much of Crimes' flow focuses on his interplay with Jansen's baritone guitar, whether it's the skittering riff of "Thrifty Vultures" or the down-tempo sludge of "Taste Deadens."But the rhythm section is crucial as well, especially on the Joy Division-esque buildup of "Wide Eyes" or the slithery bassline of "Perfect Three."
However languidly the music moves, the rest of the band say they, too, are channeling Jansen's sense of purpose. "I feel like the older I get, I'm not just 21, getting drunk, and playing music anymore. Every album means a little bit more," says Hagy. "Even recording a second album, period, is significant. It makes me want to take it seriously and push it in a direction as far as it can go."
"But," Jansen insists, his pale eyes glancing briskly around the table, "we're not going to stress out about it either. It has to be fun. There's no reason to do it if we didn't like it."
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