Review Summary: A great debut by a trio that does simple things the way they should be done.
You really have to be courageous to try and make it in rock music within a ‘standard’ trio format - guitar, bass drums (with vocals by any of the three). You not only have to be sure in yourself but sure that you can come up with some truly listenable music, particularly if none of the players (particularly the one on guitar), can be considered as a virtuoso on their instrument.
Not only can you say that any of the members of the Bay Area, ‘startups’ Strange Culprits can be considered as a magnificent instrumentalist, but the band’s founder Jason Buckingham stumbled upon multi-instrumentalist Sarah, who wanted to try out what its like to play bass. She also happens to be Jason’s wife, and he had to convince the band’s drummer Tony Loftin that the thing will not turn into a musical flop.
On the evidence of their self-titled debut, far from it. Even with yet another hurdle, the trio put in front of themselves - playing some sort of energetic version of Americana spanning the range from Jeff Tweedy and Wilco to Yo La Tengo, with excursions into more classical artists like Springsteen and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
While none of the members are true musical masters, they manage to bring enough sense of a good melody and rhythm and with Jason’s excellent vocals they manage to come up with something that is at the same time utterly familiar and comforting, but also exciting and interesting to deserve full attention.
The opener “Moonlight” sets the tone with its Uncle Tupelo from the “No Depression” period romp, showing why music with a seemingly simple concept can always trump something that consciously tries to complicate things. “When You’re Away” with its almost Creedence-type rhythm and Mark Lanegan-like vocals exemplify where the qualities of this album lie - come up with a good melody, vocals, and don’t over-complicate if it is not necessary and you can reach a winning formula.
But Strange Culprits don’t simply hang on to one concept, “Fleeting Moments” serves up an excellent bluesy variation and “Rootless” comes up with a Yo La Tengo style mood variation. The highlight of the album is slow-burner “Mija” with its shifting moods and while “Let’s”, “Bless The Harlot” and “Fade Into” just confirm that Strange Culprits are actually delivering the goods, the closer “Concrete In The Rain” with its piano and string arrangement indicate that Strange Culprits have more musical ideas between them and that we can expect more surprises, than just an excellent debut album from them.