Something odd is going on in Omaha this year. First Conor Oberst announces the release of a solo album on Merge Records. Then The Faint announce the release of their fifth album Fasciinatiion, through their own label, the newly Christened Blank.wav, rather than Saddle Creek. For Oberst, it’s not entirely surprising to see him branch out. After all, he started Team Love not too long ago, what’s one more outlet? But for the entirety of The Faint’s career thus far, they’ve been Saddle Creek dippers. It may just be a business move, but in a sense this could signify the start of a new era for the band.
If it is the beginning of a new era, however, The Faint isn’t getting off to a very good start with Fasciinatiion. From the frenzied new wave of Blank Wave Arcade to the gothic dance-pop of Dance Macabre to the abrasive post-punk of Wet From Birth, The Faint were, if not the most original, one of the most fun indie dance groups around, with some spectacular songs to match their haywire analog beats. By the time groups like The Killers and The Bravery rolled around, The Faint had already perfected eyeliner disco-rock, and actually made it sound good. Considering how high The Faint set the bar on Danse Macabre, it’s more than a little frustrating to hear that on Fasciination, the band’s fifth album, what ever inspiration may have glimmered on early records has long since evaporated.
Technically speaking, Fasciinatiion sounds like a Faint album should—gurgling synthesizers, rumbling basslines, abrasive guitar riffs and Todd Baechle’s robot glam vocals. But that’s the problem; rather than challenge the norm or expand further on the ideas explored on Wet From Birth, Fasciinatiion is something of a tossup between growing pains and agonizing stagnancy. Fasciinatiion begins with “Get Seduced,” a song that instantly recalls their last album’s opening track, “Desperate Guys,” with its cheap sexual imagery and late night sleaze, only with lyrics telling of tabloid affairs (“what not to wear to the awards…whose tit escaped on camera“). While the melodic touches of flashy synth here set it apart from the band’s work, offering a far more exaggerated version of The Faint, the awkward lyrics somewhat hinder its aural seduction.
First single “The Geeks Were Right” almost comes too close to sounding like “Agenda Suicide” at times, but where that song brilliantly built up to dramatic climaxes, this mid-tempo sci-fi romp about cybernetic “egghead” pretty boys with “thin white legs, modified features and software brains” wears thin quickly. “Machine In the Ghost” is considerably better, as its brighter new wave glitch pop changes the pace, and “Fulcrum and Lever,” likewise, treads new and creepy ground. Though the band’s obsession with technology (check the title spelling pun) is somewhat overwrought, these latter two examples find their partybot vibe succeeding. Unfortunately, when “Psycho” queues up, all bets are off. In this song, Baechle (or Fink, I guess, considering he took his wife’s name) delivers what could possibly be the most embarrassing lyrics of his career, confessing like a hyper-masculine meathead or a Hills cast member, I can’t decide, “I don’t think straight when I’m pissed off” and “I’m an asshole when I get called out.”
I was almost ready to give the band the benefit of the doubt after hearing “Mirror Error,” a remarkably subtle melody amid wildly flaring keyboard surges, but “I Treat You Wrong” negated the redemption with its cringe-worthy lyrics and throwaway melody. Baechle’s description of a “tank full of fluid” on “Fish in a Womb” isn’t doing anyone any favors either, though its buzzsaw ballad sound is at least a change of pace. The true surprise is “A Battle Hymn For Children,” which is surprisingly gorgeous and carries far more depth than the mere surface beatlogging of the bulk of tracks leading up to it. And this is all the more reason why Fasciinatiion is such a frustrating product. Though there are a handful of standouts, the rest of the album finds the band caught between mid-tempo retreads and overclocked digi-effects, trite observations and juvenile hissy fits.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.