Like the clattering, asthmatic wheeze of the industrial revolution as it slowly relinquished influence to a burgeoning new age, The Faint's music resurrects the vacuous bounce of '80s synth-pop to express the unsatisfying rumble of an increasingly mechanized, impersonal world. The insistence of their gloomy, retro-groove recalls The Cure flavored with a Ziggy Stardust-era post-apocalyptic flair. That No Doubt would tab them to open on its new tour says something, though exactly what is the question, since The Faint's sinister gothic edge is a far cry from Gwen Stefani's cotton candy. In fact, The Faint could not be further from those peroxided left-coasters. The Faint is hardly a household name, though it's part of an incredibly talented group of indie-rock friends who grew up playing music together in Omaha, Nebraska, including Tim Kasher (Cursive, The Good Life) and Conor Oberst (Desparecidos, Bright Eyes). When The Faint debuted in 1998 with Media, it made little splash, sounding much like the lo-fi earnest rockers that spawned emo, and offering only a few tantalizing hints of the beat-heavy direction it would eventually take.
All that changed in 1999 with the addition of keyboardist Jacob Thiele. Intent on finding a new approach, the band settled on a rudimentary synth sound that recalls new wave's less spiky cousins, Soft Cell and Berlin. The cheekily titled Blank Wave Arcade burbles and pulses like a white noise generator gone native, while singer Todd Baechle waxes existential with dark, deadpan lyrics, from chauffeuring the drugged-up prom queen ("Cars Pass in Cold Blood") to passionate, self-negating sex ("Worked Up So Sexual").
On their latest, Danse Macabre, Baechle turns his steely gaze toward the work-a-day culture, lamenting "all we want are just pretty little homes," on "Agenda Suicide," and sarcastically noting, "there are times when I miss the appeal," on "Total Job." Like the inhuman metronomic pulse of the beat, Baechle's characters are hollowed-out shells, from the bitter man paralyzed attempting to save a fake drowning victim ("Ballad of a Paralyzed Citizen") to the plastic scene of "Your Retro Career Melted," where "girls pushed girls side to side to hear a suction sound as limbs realign." Danse Macabre features the band's new guitarist Dapose, formerly of an Omaha death-metal band, kicking in additional sonic heft with a jagged, percussive playing style that's even more impressive live. Indeed, The Faint's performances really bring the music to life, from the audience's infectious '80s-dance-night booty-shaking to the band's well-conceived light show (how often do you say that?) to its own complicity in the fun, dipping and swaying together with each portentous electro-thump.
No, The Faint hasn't pioneered a new genre, only invested an old one with new vitality, but like our own struggles to reinvent our world, sometimes the best answer lies not in some new breakthrough, but shedding light on a forgotten past.
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