At its genesis, social-media platforms posited themselves as new, innovative ways to connect with friends and family. You could share and promote your work, trade insights on the latest pop-culture phenomenon, coo over a friend's new pet or baby-the possibilities seemed as boundless as the Internet itself had in the early '90s.
But as one platform begot another, and then another, the proverbial milk started to curdle. Especially in the last decade, as algorithms evolve, Facebook and Twitter have morphed into warped personalized mirrors, where users can gaze at and react to left- or right-leaning news sources, specific-to-them advertisements, and - perhaps most relevant - fiery political opinions. Facebook in particular has become a breeding ground for hate speech and bullying, among other issues.
This is precisely what troubles Omaha electro-punk pioneers The Faint on their forthcoming seventh studio album, Egowerk. "Social media is turning well-meaning people into self-important cruel monsters," asserts lead singer Todd Fink. "Egowerk's focus is on the current social state of the Internet: an amazing world of free knowledge, communication, and opportunity is proving to be a toxic battleground. One where the people most sure of their opinion are quick to take a stand and destroy anyone who doesn't agree with them."
His sense of urgency unfurls over the album's frenetic, cacophonous tracks. Opener "Child Asleep" echoes well-loved Faint singles from the Danse Macabre days, with rapidfire techno beats that sear so hot, your forehead will break into a sweat regardless of proximity to a dance floor. And though the synths should sound familiar to any Faint follower, the song's monotone message is at once classic and current: "If I was wise, I would see I'm a child still asleep."
Elaborating further, Todd says, "It would be amazing if I could wake up from the world that I think I'm awake in already. If there's a better way of understanding life, I'd love to be privy to it. You see the wisdom of all Gurus in the East, and you know they're not bothered by this or that. They've attained something, and the rest of us are just kind of banging into stuff, trying to figure out what to do with our lives."
But in terms of music creation, the band, which also includes drummer and backup vocalist Clark Baechle, keyboardist Graham Ulicny, and guitarist and bassist Michael "Dapose" Dappen, is very much wide awake. It's been four years since the Saddle Creek flagship act dropped a proper studio album, and more than two decades since they first tore onto the Midwest scene, alongside area staples Cursive and Bright Eyes, with anxious electro-pop-punk anthems that meshed doomsday themes with thudding dance-floor hooks. As their work progressed in the '00s, The Faint became famous for their all-consuming live shows, where fans could channel all of their energy into jumping, leaping, and shouting in passionate tandem with the band.
The guys, in turn, feed off of that energy.
"I always think of the audience-from what I can see beyond my mop of hair and the blinding lights-as this buzzing hive of bees," says Dapose of the live show experience. "All trying to dance in their socially allowed spaces, vibrating into this wave of heat. The heat is what always gives me this excited energy to play harder. Like when you're in a sauna. You want to make it hotter and hotter and see how much you can handle."
More recently, founding members Fink and Baechle have expanded their purview to new adventures and projects: Baechle relocated from Omaha to Philadelphia two years ago. Fink, in addition to collaborating with his wife, Azure Ray's Orenda Fink, as CLOSENESS, uses the design skills he's developed in The Faint to make high-end, handmade hats as Recapitate Headwear.
Soon, Fink plans to relocate from his longtime home of Omaha to the considerably more remote neighborhood of Joshua Tree, California.
Now with their latest effort, the group began to construct Egowerk shortly after releasing their 2016 career-spanning record, CAPSULE:1999-2016, with Baechle making frequent trips back to Omaha from his new home in Philadelphia to mix the record. "We came up with the foundation of nearly an entire song each day, every day," says Fink. "We worked really fast and made a lot of progress at the beginning."
"As a band, we did the whole record ourselves," says Baechle, who also oversaw the production on Egowerk. "We voted to produce it as a band. For me, personally, this was the biggest difference between this album and others."
Recording at Enamel Studios in Omaha, The Faint composed 11 blistering tracks that explore society's current relationship to, well, themselves. "I have work to do on my ego, and so does everyone else," says Fink. "It's become really noticeable with the state of the world, especially when we're on communications platforms, social media and all that stuff. We have to ask ourselves why we're doing what we're doing. Is it an ego trip? Are we trying to make other people do what we wish we would do? Or are we just trying to feel better than other people and taking people down?"
Lead single "Chameleon Nights" echoes this sentiment by exploring the many shades of human behavior-specifically when they, like the titular lizard, become less recognizable versions of themselves on social media. "We want validation from our friends and from our followers, and we'll take on this or that role in order to look good or feel like we're part of a solution," says Fink. "And that's human nature, but it's hard to look at."
Despite The Faint's nihilistic musings on Egowerk, Fink and Baechle remain optimistic that things can improve if society is willing to absorb dueling perspectives. "The more you learn about any issue, any issue at all, the more you understand that it's more complicated than you think," Fink says. "I'd like to see people less convinced that they're right about everything all the time. I guess I think we'll figure it out as time goes on."
- By Rachel Brodsky