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.