So this is what happens when you tour non-stop with the Faint. You step out of the dance party and retreat into the sanctuary of your laptop. The result of this introspective journey is Broken Spindles’ (aka Faint bassist Joel Peterson) third full length release Inside/Absent.
This album, the band’s second for Saddle Creek, is an entirely depressing and reticent work — and I think that is what makes it good. It has a lonely, almost robotic feeling that has been a staple of the Broken Spindles sound. At the risk of judging a CD by its cover, the thematic artwork showcased through each of the three albums signals this lonely robot theme before the disc is even opened. The art involves a white, faceless block body made up of simple shapes. Although these faceless block bodies show no overt emotions, the covers are about as good a representation of stark loneliness as you can get.
And the music? Well it does the cover justice. The first track, “Inward”, begins with a jagged, processed piano bass line that succumbs to a gorgeously syncopated contrapuntal piano melody. This instrumental track is incredibly haunting. And, like most of the tracks on the album, sits just under three minutes.
“This Is an Introduction”, ironically the second track on the album, utilizes Peterson’s deft ability to program synthesized beats over a vocal that is eerily Faint-like. The lyrics are dark, but not the same macabre that characterizes the Faint. It’s a more destructive, inner darkness. “My other brother’s got a baby that I’ve seen once / I’m not even sure where he lives / It’s hard for people to get close to me / I’m so distant”. The lyrics on the record aren’t exactly recantations of the literary elite, but they are simple and fitting to the stripped bare nature of the album. For those interested in Belle and Sebastian or the Decemberists-style stories, you won’t get them here. But you surely can appreciate the terseness of Peterson’s inward-looking incantations.
Something like the Faint, this album is dark but still danceable. “Burn My Body” will most likely be played at the next New York hipster party. Dark-suited, skinny-tied indie rock boys and swoop haired, blacked out, too cool girls will surely move, seemingly unemotional, to the boom-chik beat.
But I think what this album really lacks is variation. The tracks bleed together too much. They are, at times, despite some ridiculously wrenching moments, unemotionally robotic. The dichotomy of the blank faceless block people versus the emotions that lay beneath the facelessness sometimes leans too heavily toward the former. Luckily there are those moments when Peterson finally lets go and bares his heart. Those moments are what make the album.
I was really hoping that the last track, “Painted Boy Face”, would reveal some great emotional closing, but it doesn’t. It is simply an unemotional end to a record that could have been a great work of electronic bleeding. It was a disappointing end.
The production on Inside/Absent is fantastic and, as said before, there are some amazingly bare moments. And although the moments are a bit too far and few between, they are worth the wait. Those moments really do catch you and grip you tightly.