Before modern, synthy dance rock came into vogue, before dubstep, even before The Postal Service, teens looking for something to satisfy both their us-vs.-them, heartbroken moodiness and the need to dance like crazy people had the dark new wave of The Faint. The Faint made it cool for hipsters to dance in the late ’90s, and for that we thank them. 1999’s Blank-Wave Arcade and 2001’s Danse Macabre were indie dance night staples, where basement-dwelling, Adderall-riddled teens could shake and sweat to something that didn’t involve the terms “boy band” or “pop princess.”
The Faint have in some respects come a long way from that initial dance revolution success, which pulled them out of Omaha and into the national limelight. Some of their members have come and gone, their live show has become an all-encompassing event, and their musical acumen has refined a bit. After a four-year hiatus, however, their new album, Doom Abuse, sounds like The Faint of the early days, for better or worse. They’re a bit rough, frenetic, and urgent, and still riding the new wave.
Lead vocalist Todd Fink explained in our recent interview that during and after the recording of 2008’s Fasciinatiion, he had grown tired of making songs and melodies, and he wanted to get as far away from the process as possible. He buried himself in deep electronic music. Coming back into the studio for Doom Abuse, Fink and the band, thankfully, got over most of that melody anxiety. Songs like the mental debriefing of “Evil Voices” and the horror movie nightmare of lead single “Help in the Head” have the signature obscenely catchy hooks of The Faint buried under fuzzed-out, glitch-y electronica.
The electronic experimentation that Fink, drummer Clark Baechle (Fink’s brother), and keyboardist Jacob Thiele delved into during the hiatus under the Depressed Buttons moniker also shines through on the album. There’s some return to the punk inclinations of Blank-Wave Arcade, but Fink and company use the knowledge gained from Depressed Buttons to create a more focused electronica than their most recent efforts. It’s not a total wash of synth and drum machines. Baechle’s drumming doesn’t seem extraneous on a song like “Loss of Head”, whereas it seemed on Fasciinatiion that he could’ve very well been behind a drum machine rather than a kit. Thiele, meanwhile, doesn’t have as many tricks and loops pulling focus from the core of the song.
Unfortunately, Fink’s melodic burnout didn’t totally disappear from his consciousness. “Dress Code” is a robotic list of corporate dress code standards that feels overly starched. His voice is heavily filtered and monotone, and the unchanging loop behind it compounds the already boring recitation. Album closer “Damage Control” is another too filtered and too expansive dirge that misses the urgent fun of the other tracks. It’s slow and plodding and sits in an unfortunate juxtaposition. It’s a quick one-stop ride on a barreling train when it should be a slow coast.
There is a good chance that The Faint won’t be making many new fans from Doom Abuse. The lyrical content is the same paranoid, anti-establishment apocalypse they’ve been writing since Dance Macabre, and while the music is a shift back to the grime that was absent from Fasciinatiion, it’s still The Faint holding to their new wave revival. For those who grew up with the band and prefer this dark, fuzzy rumble to the paler imitations that have been inspired by it, it’s a welcome reminder of the heyday of the Omaha outfit. The hiatus did them good, and in the Lorazepam paranoid dreams of The Faint’s world, that’s a glimmer of needed hope.
Essential Tracks: “Evil Voices”, “Help in the Head”