Having evolved from a bunch of Omaha skate rats into the synth-loving, reluctant hipsters that you hear before you now, the Faint are back with their first full-length album in four years since 2004’s Wet from Birth. Their newest disc, Fasciinatiion marks the band’s departure from long-time label, Saddle Creek, and their first under their own imprint, blank.wav Records.
While the Faint have been kicking around for over a decade, their danceable retro-styled, synth-fueled punk is currently en vogue thanks to the explosion of nostalgia for all-things ’80s — or just things that remind us of the ’80s. Scratch that. Make that “things that remind us of what we assume to be are impressions of what were perceived as some of the best parts of the ’80s”. If you’re scrabbling for a comparison in terms of pop progenitors, the Faint is most likely akin to Duran Duran and solo-era Peter Gabriel at his most experimental.
Very little has changed since their last album. There’s the superficial that’s already been noted, that the band formed their own label. Lead singer Todd Baechle got married and changed his last name to “Fink”, flipping the bird to tradition and taking the surname of his wife, Orenda Fink of the group Azure Ray. And the Faint’s punky, indie-rocktronic dance sound is still firmly intact.
Now that we’ve all gotten caught up, one thing has changed. The Faint may sound the same stylistically; however, they’ve fallen in line with the statement-heavy lyrics that usually accompany the indie-rock genre. This social consciousness has been merged with the Faint’s signature carefree smack in the mouth of boogie-friendly synth and electronica that would be right at home at a rave.
Kicking things off, “Get Seduced” is a dance-tastic wave of punk and electronica that offers surprising sympathy for celebrity trainwrecks whose every move becomes tabloid fodder. The Faint calls to task not attention seekers, but consumers who rabidly demand a steady diet of trash. In what seems to be a recurring theme on Fasiinatiion, the Faint attempts to get symbolic on our asses, the track’s oddly timed breaks, shifts, and beats representing of the irregular stretch of time — the sometimes less-than 15 minutes allotted to the semi-stars of the day. Jacob Thiele’s all-encompassing synth effects whir and growl like a starlet’s empty stomach following a Hollywood bulimia banquet, grinding out a blipping, belching beat to lyrics like these: “How rad is it / Living in a microscope? / Broadcast into every single living room / Hot lights on your love life / Let me buy close-up tabloid shots of your cellulite.”
The sonic symbolism continues on “Mirror Error”, which cleverly plays with the vocal tracking, taking the Faint’s reverb-distortion style up a notch. The group playfully bounces sound around and off of what sounds like an aural mirror image of its lyrics calling from either side of the glass.
Lyrically, Fasciinatiion leans heavily in the direction of sci-fi in its vision of the future at times. The Gary Numan-esque “The Geeks Were Right”, a plucky sci-fi odyssey stands right alongside “99 Luftballoons” as one of the most cheerful laments about future catastrophe ever. Bass-heavy electronic burps pulsate behind Fink’s monotone vocal stylings, managing a shred of emotion of a rendered-speechless Lovecraft-meets-Orwellian protagonist with the song’s chorus, “When I saw the future / The geeks were right.”
This fascination (No pun intended. Correct spelling intended.) with things preserved in fluid — perhaps a holdover from their Wet from Birth days — continues with “Fish in a Womb”, which manages to be the closest to the Faint’s goofy old school lyrical style.
On Fasciinatiion, it’s obvious that the group is trying to say something, although at times it’s hard to understand exactly what they’re trying to say. This is most evident on the ode to Religion vs. Science vs. Philosophical Conscientious Objectors on “Machine in the Ghost”. It seems to want to make an acknowledging nod to agnosticism, existing in a “show me” state. But the song never fully cops to any one side of the argument, which, essentially, makes any sort of argument worthless. Then there’s the deliberately obtuse “Forever Growing Centipedes” that meanders aimlessly and the tedious “Fulcrum and Lever”. The latter, cluttered with effects as it is results in a processed, robotic and monotone vocals (moreso than the rest of the album’s tracks), serves as overkill.
At other times, the Faint speak volumes with their car crash pile-up lyrics. The bleak “A Battle Hymn for Children” intertwines a criticism of war and raising a future generation for nothing but. Pointing the finger of blame at various facets and factions of society, Fink attempts to make sense of a lifetime of being fed confusing and conflicting messages through the eyes of a child who grows to adulthood in the span of the song’s three minutes to the tune of a bubbling organ grinder synth riff.
On Fasciinatiion the band’s essence remains the same and their latest offering maintains the band’s spirit of whimsy, but there is a more serious tone all around. To sum it up, the Faint have grown up. Just a bit.