Fingerprintz – Distinguishing Marks

I’m never sure just how to characterize Fingerprintz. They’re somewhere in the post-punk new wave but with a dance beat vein. Dark sounds, screaming guitars, and a very film noir sensibility. Whatever it is that they are, this album from 1980 is the absolute pinnacle of that.

Distinguishing Marks front cover
Distinguishing Marks front cover – each one a real, detachable postcard featuring art by John Stalin, a leading postcard artist of the early ’80s, whose “Doom of Youth” series I just adored.

We can start with the cover. If you were a collector of artistic postcards in the 1980s, you probably knew the work of John Stalin, whose “Doom of Youth” series spoke to me mightily. Today, I can barely find evidence he existed (of course, confusion with that other Stalin doesn’t help). New York University’s library has a collection from the ex-wife of Ken Brown, another postcard artist who is still very much around, and that collection includes “Doom of Youth” cards. Otherwise I can’t find a thing about him.

There couldn’t be a more fitting artist for this collection, and there couldn’t be a more perfect way to present his work. Each side of the cover presents six distinct images (one for each song, and one for the band name). All images along the lines of film noir, stock imagery, weird darkness. Incredibly, they are also perforated (rather too effectively, the cover has always felt like it could come apart easily). When I discovered this album, I was in my peak of postcard-sending — I sent postcards to almost anyone I knew, just because. And I thought it would be a really neat trick to take the postcards from this album, construct some kind of a story across a series of them, and send them to someone (probably my roommate who discovered Fingerprintz for us in the first place). So I bought a second copy of this album with that very much in mind.

Of course I couldn’t do that. I could never do that. I’m not one of those people who can cut up a book to make a collage, or perf a record cover to make some kind of postcard art. Just not part of my makeup. On the plus side, I have two decent copies of “Distinguishing Marks.”

The songs on this are remarkable. “Yes Eyes,” “Houdini Love,” and the incredible “Bulletproof Heart,” one of the few Fingerprintz songs for which a live performance can be found on YouTube. (Their successor band, The Silencers, did a different version of the song that charted. It’s good. It’s not this.)

I tried to embed a live version of “Bulletproof Heart,” which did not work, so just follow the link:

Distinguishing Marks back cover
Distinguishing Marks back cover – six more perforated postcards. Send them to your friends!
Postcard closeup for Remorse Code
Postcard closeup for Remorse Code – note the actual perforations.

We didn’t discover Fingerprintz until a year or so after this came out, but once we did, this went into heavy, heavy rotation. Most of these songs turned up on my tapes from the time, and the band’s sound set up my expectations for what new wave could sound like, expectations that were not entirely met as synthesizer-based pop took over the world for the next few years. I’m gonna go ahead and mark this as one of my all-time Top 10 albums. I wouldn’t want to be without it.

Distinguishing Marks sleeve
Distinguishing Marks sleeve – the dotted lines echoing the perforations on the cover. Clever.
Distinguishing Marks lyrics sleeve
Distinguishing Marks lyrics sleeve
Distinguishing Marks label
Distinguishing Marks label

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