I’m having a lot of difficulty writing about the new Faint album. You see, I really like it, but I’m not sure what to say. They come from Omaha, Nebraska and they’re on Saddle Creek, but they really sound like they’re from some 1985-era Berlin club and on a label like Nettwerk or Cleopatra. I could throw out all sorts of comparisons — Covenant, November Commandment, Gary Numan, early Nine Inch Nails — and they’d all come pretty close. But The Faint are no rehash. There’s something dangerous and edgy about them that feels far more forward-thinking than most groups that get tagged “new wave.” Something that has this ability to wind itself through your mind, send shivers down your spine, and get your body moving in ways it wasn’t meant to.
Maybe it’s the lyrics. There’s nothing particularly pleasant about The Faint’s songs. At least 1999’s Blank-Wave Arcade had some sort of human contact. Granted it was sex, albeit the kind of carwreck sexuality that only David Cronenberg would get off on, but it was there. With Danse Macabre, it’s all about the misanthropy and disillusionment, baby. Any human contact is in the form of faceless clubs and crowds, working drones, and tragic figures. And vocalist Todd Baechle reports it with a kind of crazed ambivalence that adds additional detachment, no matter how disturbing the scene.
“Agenda Suicide” finds Baechle lamenting “Did I waste my time, I think I did/I worked for life,” surrounded by mindless drones working 40 hours a week for a better life. “Glass Danse” talks up a club “that keeps the life world out” and is full of “made up babies [rotating] as a siren spins a beam of amber.” And if the world wasn’t cheery enough, “a baby falls out warm/It’s screaming for its life/An infant tries to dance/As it grows up and dies.” And you thought that kind of sentiment died out with Joy Division.
Is “Your Retro Career Melted” just a bit self-deprecating? After all, plenty have written off the band as retro hacks. Baechle revels in the imagery, of mannequins performing for a thankless crowd, then taken apart and reassembled at the next town. Oh, those Faint boys and their gallows humor! And “Violent” is, well, violent, a disturbing series of vignettes detailing abuse, murder, and social detachment.
So we’ve got images of misanthropy, death, and disillusionment. What keeps it from being so, well, “goth” is just how dancey it is. If you’re not up for Baechle’s lyrics, and just want to get your dance on, go right ahead. You won’t be the only one. The Faint is about the only band I’ve ever seen that can get a whole crowd of cynical indie-rockers dancing after the first minute. Everytime “Your Retro Career Melted” or “The Conductor” comes on, I suddenly find myself dancing around like I don’t have any joints (which is a problem when driving). And I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a track like “Glass Danse” or “Let The Poison Spill From Your Throat” spinning in the clubs.
The one exception would be “Ballad of a Paralysed Citizen,” a tale about a lifeguard paralyzed when he tries to save a child faking his own drowning. The whole scenario feels a tad surreal (especially with Baechle’s vocals), but amidst the distorted beats, a solemn cello gives the piece a sense of tragedy not commonly heard in electronic music.
Although The Faint is largely seen as synth-oriented band, new member Mike Dappen (formerly of death metal band Lead) brings some menacing guitar sounds to the album. “The Conductor” is laced with shards of guitar, but that doesn’t diminish the song’s inherent club appeal one bit. This aggressive streak that runs throughout the album is what ultimately sets The Faint apart. They’re not an electronica band, they’re not a “synth” band. They’re a rock band intent on ripping the entrails out of their Korgs, producing the skronkiest, bleepiest sounds they can — and getting booties to shake and bodies to move across the land.