FACS : Still Life in Decay

As mentioned in our review of FACS‘s previous record, 2021’s stellar Present Tense, the album to which this is per the band’s words a kind of addendum, the modus operandi of the group has changed. Where before the group’s work was marked by dark abstraction, like a closed room slowly filling up with incense as increasingly distorted PiL and Sisters of Mercy records clashed in the background, now the group has cleared out that smoke to make room for a clarified approach to songwriting. Except: what’s that? The opener “Constellation” opens with a squall of emotive white noise, nothing too far out for people who’ve spent some time with noise. But, ah! It settles into a distorted and driving bass groove with chiming post-punk guitars before… oh no, is that a shoegaze swelling noisescape, like the other side of My Bloody Valentine?

All of which is to say that, assuming what they mean by this record being an addendum is that the material emerged from similar seeds if not the same writing sessions, it’s easy to see why these tracks were left off of that previous record. The six songs here ride the line between the kind of startling crystalline melodicism that sits between Radiohead and something like Mary Lattimore and a compelling swarming darkness, a cloudlike passage which Present Tense defined itself by negating. That these songs come after seems to indicate exactly what I had hypothesized: a move toward the maximalist, of appending the abstract and nonlinear motions of their established songwriting milieu to something both driving and definable. There is an added sense of granularity to the noise sections of this material, with a keen-eared engineer and producer clearly having put in the work to make this stuff crackle out of the speakers damn near like a live show feels. Any guitarist who’s stood too close to their amp while fucking with their pedals will know what I mean, the way pushed air seems to crack and break apart in a way you can feel in your bones, a physicalism often missing from records like this compared to live performances.

That mid-record track “Slogan” feels like a melodically tighter Horse Lords track with its loping 5/4 beat and more adventurous harmonic palette indicates that this is also a record of experiments. (I wonder, semi-privately, whether these were tracks assembled over a long time, never finding a home, but now polished up and found deserving of debut, given the intriguing plurality of approaches on display.) The closing two tracks see the group branch into more ambitious territory, climbing past 8 and then finally 10 minutes, erring away from outre instrumentalist maximalism a la a band like Rush while still containing broad cinematic programmatic progressive flourish. This latter development seemed, admittedly, more like an inevitability for the band, who always have felt comfortable with the more art rock-adjacent wings of post-punk and prog and have shown commendable compositional strength in those abstract song structures. We even get an explicitly political track in “Class Spectre,” marrying their dark and acerbic gothic romanticism to more explicitly Marxist subject matter. They neither paint anything too plainly nor do they obscure too much in artful metaphor here, managing a quite delicate balance between exploring class conditions without coming across as preachy or, for lack of a better term, clout-chasing.

Still Life In Decay finds the group making those first steps of the dialectical fusion of elements that had made up their sound performed here the most successful they’ve ever been done. Quietly, I had sometimes wondered whether the group would ever top the majesty of Disappears’ swan song Irreal; despite years of solid material, records I am very glad to own and to have witnessed, it seemed perhaps just past their grasp. Here, the road to beating that previous album feels clear. The trio have settled into quite a powerful engine, with the drummer setting krautrock rhythms against the spine of fuzzed out bass carrying the key melodies, allowing the guitarist/vocalist to provide psychedelic and art-rock abstraction as color to the skeleton. Fingers crossed we get some macro-scale statement from them exploring these ideas, some longform composition soaring past the 20-minute mark. It’s simply hard not to idly fantasize about the upper limits of the band now that they seem to have gelled not only as players in a combo but also writers balancing a variety of different timbral and structural forms. The short, punchy material front-loading this record proves they will always have the capacity to create tight, compelling material that more than adequately fills the hole that The Horrors left when they shifted their sonic approach; it is those final epics, though, which substantially whet the appetite for a deeply desired future.

Label: Trouble in Mind

Year: 2023

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