The Faint are a group whose band name amalgamated with the title of their break-out album (Danse Macabre) and the opening track of said record (“Agenda Suicide”) has often caused pause amongst potential listeners. In the 11 years since its 2001 release, it’s said to have conjured images of goth and metal – genres unbefitting of a group who very notably reinvigorated modern new wave and may as well have pioneered the indie rock intersection between it and post-punk. And if such connotative undercurrents were not enough, the group’s association to Saddle Creek Records, the then burgeoning – still active, yet to less acclaim – Omaha, Nebraska record label, further muddled listeners’ bewilderment. Known primarily for their championed brand of working-class folk meets midwestern country twang, Saddle Creek’s foundation was built on the backs of such ruminative and introspective artists as Slowdown Virginia, Bright Eyes, and Cursive. The Faint, on the other hand, and especially by the time Danse Macabre saw release, were quite the opposite – brash and noisy, self-assured, and even flamboyant in their dance-punk inspired performances, before such hyphenated genres even existed. Their dark and methodical synth-heavy hooks backed with acoustically performed, yet electronically derived drumbeats starkly contrasted their local Omaha scene and that of the broader indie milieu. It would go on to begin a trend of bipartisan experimentation that would diversify their label through the mid-aughts and open the door for other cross-pollinating artists such as Broken Spindles and Tokyo Police Club.
More forward thinking than many could have imagined, Danse Macabre is a record that plays faithfully today as it did over a decade ago. In just nine tracks – a brief and concise 35 minutes – the Faint compose wide and evocative soundscapes, pulling inspiration from Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, and the Cure. On “The Conducto,,” we hear vocalist Todd Fink through a vocoder pronounce, “You pull the sound from scores of notes / You step the stage and take control”. Just under the swell of a haunting synth progression, as if speaking of himself in the third person, the aforementioned lyric thoroughly quantifies the sovereignty Fink and company have over listeners. “Your Retro Career Melted” works in an almost identical capacity in that it uses similar vocal modulation and distorted bass lines, while glitchy keyboard effects round out the sound and Fink confidently commands the group through sweaty, existential anthems.
With Danse Macabre-inspired artists flourishing now more than ever, Saddle Creek took this opportunity to re-introduce what’s turned out to be a classic indie record. Remastered and reissued with six bonus cuts, a DVD, and extended linear notes, the audience this release intends to attract is clear: Die-hard fans of the Faint and a younger generation of listeners who were likely in grade school at the time of its original issue. Of the bonus tracks – all plucked from Danse Macabre-era releases – the most notable, curiously enough, come in the form of covers. The first, initially found on on the Mote/ Dust EP that quickly followed Danse Macabre just two months after its release, is “Mote”, a jolting lo-fi nod to Sylvia Plath from Sonic Youth’s Goo that despite being turned into a track that’s more suitable for a dance clubs than an early ‘90s dive bar, remains surprisingly true to the original. Conversely, “Falling Out of Love at This Volume”, recorded during the original Danse Macabre sessions, reinterprets one of Bright Eyes’ earliest tracks into a solely electronic wall of spacey ambiance and muffled vocals.
Looking back at Danse Macabre with the hindsight of a decade’s worth of progress and musical developments, it should surprise none that the Faint, despite their eclectic and idiosyncratic opulence, would emerge from such a trendsetting label, or even a small town like Omaha, Nebraska; diversity has since become a staple of Saddle Creek’s ethos. And while the group’s later releases have failed to impact the scene as much as Danse Macabre, one can only hope that the reissue of this record and its concurrent tour in which the band performed the album in its entirety will reinvigorate their spirits, as their writing once did for the genre at large.
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