Feel.Love.Thinking.Of. is one of those albums that are difficult to critique, because the good songs are so good and the other songs are so undistinguished. Depending on which track you’re listening to, your entire angle is either “One of the year’s best, man!” or “Erm, next!” Just about every album has its stronger songs and weaker ones, and of course the matter is always subjective. But this one, the second proper full-length from Edmonton, Alberta’s Faunts, really does seem to have a dual personality, and not in a Speakerboxxx / The Love Below sort of way.
It may seem odd that a band get critical recognition simply by being Canadian and indie. However, Arcade Fire, the Stills, Wolf Parade, Broken Social Scene, and others ensured there was a legitimate scene into which Faunts released their debut, 2005’s High Expectations / Low Results. The expansive, “dreampop” sound fit right in and garnered the band a following. Further exposure was gained through the soundtrack of the Xbox 360 game Mass Effect, resulting in 2007’s M4 EP and the following year’s remix collection.
The appearance of these potential place-holder releases so early in the band’s career might have suggested Faunts had already run out of ideas. But the band was weathering personnel changes and carefully re-tooling their sound for Feel.Love.Thinking.Of.. Now a five-piece with three Batke brothers; Tim, Steven, and Rob; as well as long-time drummer Paul Arnusch and new bassist Scott Gallant, Faunts sound tighter and more straightforward than before. You could say there’s more “pop” and less “dream”, though atmosphere and brooding are in no short supply. But in addition to the familiar dreampop / shoegaze touchstones, the influence of synth pioneers Kraftwerk, New Order, Depeche Mode, and others is unmistakable. That seems to be the case with half the “indie” bands around these days, though Feel.Love.Thinking.Of. is definitely not “retro”. The stricken-by-love lyrics, ping-ponging electronic effects, described by the band’s own presskit as “mathematic”, and stilted drumbeats all put the album squarely in the 21st century.
Feel.Love.Thinking.Of. is bookended by a couple great, uptempo electro-indiepop songs. The title track is propelled by rapidly-pulsing synths and drums, leading to and a catchy-as-hell, brittle-as-glass chorus you could listen to all day. Closer “Explain” builds on navel-gazing guitars, a danceable rhythm, and the Batkes’ soft, gentle voices all anchored by a brilliantly emotive bass hook. While some tracks on High Expectations / Low Results were criticized for overstaying their welcome, “Explain” makes good, ponderous use of all its six minutes. Sunrise/set not included. If you go by these first and last impressions, this is a great album, indeed.
In the middle is where the quality gets muddled. “It Hurts Me All The Time” is the most obvious move toward a radio-friendly sounds. There’s the pulsating rhythm again, but this time it’s offset by a breezy, strummed chorus, suggesting a better-than-average Pernice Brothers track. The title leaves little to the imagination in terms of subject matter. Safe to say, Batke’s not talking about chronic back pain, but at least the sentiment is straightforward, not shrouded in would-be poetry. The angular, more aggressive, and vaguely unsettling “Out on a Limb” is another winner, bassist Gallant again providing an edge.
But there’s also evidence Faunts possibly were struggling for material, or at least having a tough time deciding on a direction for that retooling. “Lights Are Always On” has plenty of big chords, skyscraping guitars, and shimmer, but not much substance to match. You can tell instrumental “Das Malefitz” is Krautrock-inspired, because the title is in German! But the track sounds more like a remix of the original Knight Rider theme. “I Think I’ll Start A Fire” decides not to, instead approximating ‘80s soft-pop dreck. “Alarmed/Lights” does a good approximation of New Order’s Movement sound, but to no apparent end. Hyphenating a song title does not give you free reign to drone on for seven and a half minutes. These weak links make you wonder exactly which band you’re listening to, and come close to killing off the buzz of the opening highlights.
Is Feel.Love.Thinking.Of. a textbook example of the “decent album that would have made a great EP”? Quite possibly. You could argue the atmosphere sustains the album even through the identity-challenged weak spots. Or you could argue that’s what “skip” buttons and per-track downloads were made for.