When The Faint released Danse Macabre in August 2001, it was lauded by fans and critics alike for taking a somewhat antiquated genre in new wave and making it fresh, fun, and witty all over again. Now, over a decade later, Saddle Creek has reissued the album onto a musical world more strange and amazing than any resident of 2001 could’ve ever dreamed of. But even after all that time and cultural growth, the newly-expanded LP (nine original cuts, six bonus) still sounds as vital as the very first time it hit shelves.
Much of the album’s success stems from how it pushes and tests the limits of what is possible with new wave music. In a way, a track like “Let The Poison Spill From Your Throat” is a progenitor of the dance-punk genre, mixing purposefully irksome punk vocals with a rumbling synth line programmed during a duel between Joey Ramone and half of Krautrock. It’s the godfather of most of the DFA roster while paving the way for the rebirth of the synth as legitimate force of musical coolness and ironic sensuality.
As a whole, the LP could also be deemed an a significant contributor to the rise in lo-fi, specifically as a pejorative term for earnest, homegrown music done by “amateurs” (or those looking to strip away pretense) like Keep Shelly In Athens, Memory Tapes, and Twin Sister. “Your Retro Career Melted” has a synth pattern seemingly assembled by an infant, yet the spurts of bass and random Halloween noises sound warm because it was done with true dedication by a group not looking to wow with skills but to use the noise to make a profound statement. The aim isn’t to always be complicated, but be as direct and sincere even if the music is either repetitive or deliberately simplistic.
But the album also goes beyond the scopes of new wave and dance-punk to tackle the loftier arena of techno. “Posed to Death” is heavily indebted to the techno tradition of jagged, uneven layers, but its multi-faceted synths and random junk noise has a more playful vibe thanks to frontman Todd Fink’s erratic performance. It’s not outright some EDM club banger, but it’s a different spin on their inherent theatricality and comes off more purposefully light and breezy. That playfulness, that sense of ease and a casual approach, encapsulates why the album still matters and why it so effortlessly makes musical history without making a big deal out of it.
The LP’s appeal isn’t all about reinventing the wheel; being a new wave band in the 2000s means a certain level of nostalgia, and the band saunters down memory lane in its own way. Lyrically, new wave had a tendency for the overdone, the overwrought, and the overly perplexing (exhibit A: New Order’s “True Faith” features the line “When I was a very small boy, very small boys talked to me”). The Faint are just as theatrical in “The Conductor”, delivering absurdist poetry like, “Confident with your back to the audience/ Tremelo strings begin with your gesturing wrist/ Start the orchestra slow with an elegant aire”). But it’s the robotic vocals that add a hint of satire to the antiquated concept, a trademark of great new wave songs that keep them being total groan-fests.
That dedication to the past reaches a crucial apex in “Glass Danse”. Here, the synths are at their most powerful, alternating between glitchy transmissions to the dance floor denizens and pulsating waves of energy strong enough to hypnotize. The band maintain their base level punk-ish tendencies while really nailing the more pompous and indulgent side of new wave bands like Depeche Mode and Cabaret Voltaire. But more than just being a great reworking, it’s the track that really defines a great album and pushes it toward true transcendence, synthesizing everything new wave is about with not only brevity but with utter ease.
Of course, the reason most people buy reissues isn’t to hear their favorite songs all over again, but for the ultra-rare bonus cuts/unreleased material. Danse Macabre‘s offerings are a couple decent remixes (particularly the Out Hud remix of “Glass Danse”) and songs re-released on Saddle Creek compilations. But fret not, voracious collectors: this album doesn’t need the extra weight to make it worth re-purchasing. It’s a sweat-soaked new wave dance extravaganza that will get you groovin’ while offering plenty of emotional insight about relationships and growing as a band. They call that a bargain.
Essential Tracks: “Your Retro Career Has Melted”, “The Conductor”, and “Posed to Death”