After a four year hiatus spent soul-searching, navel-gazing and otherwise reinventing themselves, The Faint return with their fifth studio effort Fasciinatiion, a synth-laden helping of retro electro-pop that manages to walk the line between dance-floor ready beats and electronic-overkill.
The band has undergone some serious transformations since their humble inception back in 1995 as a modest little alt-folk outfit doing the rounds in their hometown Omaha, Nebraska. While their more famous (or infamous) alumnus Conor Oberst has become the poster-boy of choice for angst-ridden post-teens (the fact that Bright Eyes‘ last three albums have each been brilliant being almost incidental to the awesome weight of the guy’s mythos), Todd Fink (nee Baechle) and company have parted ways with Saddle Creek, started their own label blank.wav, built their own studio, produced their own album and otherwise engineered things to their liking.
In other words, the world’s their shellfish, and the results are pretty damn good. Recalling the frenetic pop of early Duran Duran as well as the darkly foreboding sensibility of Depeche Mode, Fasciinatiion, while not lingering in the same dystopian depths plumbed on Danse Macabre, certainly can’t be accused of cheerfulness – “every day is like the first but with a harder head” intones Fink on Fish In A Womb, existential meaninglessness in utero worn away by relentless experience. Nice.
First single The Geeks Were Right is a gutsy piece of electro, a thumping bass line complementing a guitar riff strangely reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand from recovering-death-metal-head Dapose. Continuing the theme of unsettled doubt towards the future, Machine In The Ghost sees Fink almost defiantly declaring that “there’s no ghost in this machine / I make my own mistakes” to the accompaniment of assorted blurps and squeaks that coalesce around the keyboards into something pretty catchy.
Fulcrum And Lever maintains the menace, cries of pleading disorientation worthy of Thom Yorke, “strange phenomenon / is this planet the same one that I’ve been on” breaking through a painfully oscillating minor second that all but obscures the reflective piano chords that wash away in the background.
Lyrics aside, Psycho provides a dancefloor-ready three minutes of bouncy electro, as does the bizarrely titled Forever Growing Centipedes which probably pushes the whole “a dark tomorrow lies in wait” theme in the most interesting direction with an apprehensive tale of genetic engineering gone horribly wrong. As these things tend to.
Although Fasciinatiion probably won’t win any awards – the tone becomes a tad monotonous after a while – the various musings on the culture of celebrity obsession, use and abuse of the environment and misgivings about the technological whiz-bangery intrigue without declaiming anything definitive, while the twitchy synth and keyboard driven electro is quite difficult to resist.