FACS make music that’s to be felt more than heard. Not felt in the emotional sense—there’s an overarching dread and a palpable menace to what they do, but that’s a different story. No, they make music that rattles your bones, quickens your pulse and shortens your breath. The Chicago band, formed by members of Disappears after that like-minded post-punk group came to an end, doesn’t specialize in the kind of dancefloor-ready post-punk that groups like The Sisters of Mercy did in the ’80s, or the sort of indie-rock trendsetting sound that a band like Interpol might have 20 years later. They explore a cold and harsh terrain, one of metal and concrete brutalist structures that carry ominous resonance. And it’s bound to leave a mark.
Lifelike, the band’s second album, builds incrementally on the darkness and tension of their 2018 debut album Negative Houses, itself a fascinatingly bleak set of dirges occasionally punctuated by art-punk saxophone. Its follow-up doesn’t radically redefine the band’s approach, but there are noticeable if subtle shifts that find the band progressing into more accessible spaces, however gradually. The first single, “In Time,” initially comes across as austere, a juxtaposition of open spaces and punchy, dark bass. By the time the chorus arrives, however, the band unleashes a kind of avant-garde surf rock hook, their guitar licks cutting the tension with a brightness that’s surprising but welcome. With “Anti-Body,” there’s even less hesitation when it comes to delivering a melodic, hook-laden song. From the get-go there’s a groove that feels closer to a Joy Division A-side than a B-side, and an almost lushness about the guitar tones that it easily stands among the brightest sounds the band’s ever transmitted.
At six tracks, Lifelike isn’t a long album by any means, but time sort of stands still when FACS are playing. Their songs linger in the groove, get comfortable in their dark spaces, and soon enough the listener does as well. It’s not always pretty, but there’s a lot to enjoy within their strange and eerie sounds. So by the time the eight-minute closing track “Total History” queues up, the listener’s probably seasoned enough to weather an even longer set of tension that’s never quite released in the way we usually expect from a post-punk song. But that’s OK—there’s not a need to rise or explode for FACS. They just keep on strumming, punching, pounding, until that palpable pulse becomes a strange, hallucinatory kind of euphoria.