In its earliest moments, Present Tense appears to be a standard methodology for FACS, the art rock/post-punk group born from the ashes of Disappears. Charting from that previous band to this one, we describe the arc of a curve that gradually adds to a maximalist approach to post-punk before peeling away layer after layer to arrive at the most abstract, spacious and foreboding form. The final Disappears record, Irreal, in many ways seems to be the direct forebear to this group’s approach, taking the deep gothic darkness and post-industrial clang and clatter to a warmer but even more abstract space. Songs did not cohere into rhythm and melody but instead to soundfields and coordinated architecture, like creating a sound map of mathematics.
Which is why, as Present Tense rolls forward, it is so strong to see the group seemingly clear out the smoke in the room to reveal the skeletons of songs inside. Present Tense shows the group at their most cohesively song-oriented approach to date, like waking up from a nightmare on stage and snapping perfectly back into performance. What’s more, the emotional space this increased sense of presentness and activity brings about is no longer the stark and haunted gothic sorrow that used to swell like black lungs in their music, the deepening shadow of midnight parking garages and the unbidden hateful angles of brutalist architecture, but joy. There are moments where, worlds away, one almost feels kinship with the fever rhythms of Afrobeat (itself long a touchpoint for post-punk), assembling not so much to a FACS dance record but at least to something more close to the body than the pure mind.
It is a delight, then, to report that FACS are just as capable in this arena as they are in the more stark and morose art rock of their past. If anything, these songs feel perhaps too constrained by that previous impulse of the group to abstract and disidentify; it’s hard not to wonder and then to desire a FACS record that blows itself out with maximalism, shows just as high the ceiling can go and the density can reach with these players. And, in fairness, this is a thought that only comes up because those flashes of coherent songcraft, the driving rhythms and honest to god grooves of this record are so deep and satisfying that you become greedy, demanding not just more songs but more song within the songs themselves.
There is a strong sense that Present Tense was a conservative testing of the waters for this kind of approach to their music, as much the players looking around at each other to see if they could pull it off as them waiting with baited breath for us to tell them they did. The fruits here speak for themselves; if like the Talking Heads before them they can join flesh to wires and transform the coldness of architecture to the warmth of flesh, they too can deliver us the stench and sweat of the jungle. It renders Present Tense somewhat hard to read in the present. Its legacy now seems largely contingent on where the band goes from here, how they capitalize or don’t on the changes and differences hinted but not fully committed to here.
Label: Trouble in Mind
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.