Saddle Creek | The Faint | Reviews


Danse Macabre

8/21/2001 | | | Album Review
Reality has always had, at best, a shaky relationship with electronic music. Be it the mind-blowing experiments of Krafwerk in the '70s, the novelty-driven new wave explosion or the seeing-red terror/rage of industrial, artists who've taken up the call to make obviously electronically aided tunes have had a difficult time in expressing everything but their most direct, knee-jerk ends. Emotionally, electronically aided music is traditionally flat, direct and doesn't leave listeners much to wonder about, three things that life in the flesh-and-blood world is distinctly not. So was the problem.

Was. It's past tense, as The Faint's use of new-wave style analog synthesizers blows away the real-world hurdle that have earned electronic music epithets such as "cold" and "impersonal" for the past 20 years. Danse Macabre can't be boiled down into easy catch-all phrases. There's the get-up-and-dance feel that comes with its new wave sheen, but also a host of other elements: punk's defiance (before it got the techno bug, The Faint was a post-hardcore band), dissociated distorted vocals and sing-along segments and, most impressively, an aura of darkness that isn't repressingly grim. There's a gamut of directions in the band's set; in short, it's overtly synthetic music that's as complex as a day in the meat world.

Part of that flexibility surely comes from the band's ties to organic music. With a background as a hardworking punk act, The Faint's tunes are based on traditional songwriting forms, a marked shift from many experimental bands' nonconformist tricks. In addition, the band hasn't cut its ties to the world of traditional instrumentation and rounds out Danse Macabre with touches of real bass and drums when necessary. There's no tech-head addiction to the transistor here: The Faint uses all the tools for making music that are available to it, whether they're old or new. There's a distinct new wave feel to this album, though The Faint gives it a much more sophisticated and threatening facelift with its new wrinkles.

A focused lyrical outlook is as important to the band's crisp style as its revved-up synth is. Although the big back beats and synthetic melodies will probably goad listeners into dancing sooner or later, there's not much to celebrate in the band's lyrics. From a the album's opener, condemnation on consumer culture ("Agenda Suicide"), to its final track, a bitter tale of a lifeguard crippled in the line of duty ("Ballad of a Paralyzed Citizen"), The Faint doesn't put on a happy face. In fact, it delivers its sour observations without even the slightest lack of objectivity, a cold approach that makes this album all the more chilling. Those gray skies aren't going to clear up.

The Four Horsemen may be breathing down the band's neck for all the grim vitriol it spews on this album, but the band's given up on change-the-world declarations and optimism. No, The Faint is content to sit and watch the countdown to Armageddon like a bunch of photojournalists armed with synths and dance beats. It's your world to be disgusted at: The Faint just serve it up.

Nobody could have predicted apocalypse would be such a great dance spot, however.
Danse Macabre

Danse Macabre

LP / CD / MP3