The Faint - Doom Abuse (2014) Review


Indie Electronic

2014

7/10

I had all but given up on ever hearing another new record from The Faint, who last put out a full-length record nearly six years ago (2008’s Fasciination), an eternity for any electronic group. And even that record arrived after a four-year wait following 2004’s Wet From Birth, a record that showed that it was possible to gracefully expand the band’s sound beyond the dark new wave/electro-punk that characterized their early work. If you’ve never hear of The Faint before now, the fact that their drum machine’s brand name was Frostwave Sonic Alienator should tell you all you need to know about what they sound like.

By the early 2000s, Radio 4, !!!, Hot Hot Heat, The Rapture and others had created enough pale imitations of New Order and Gang of Four(often with annoyingly yelped vocals and dopey optimism) to be reaching the point of saturation. Fasciinatiion arrived at a time when indie electronic was slowly becoming more adventurous, with groups like Crystal Castles mixing 8-bit chiptune with the ‘90s digital hardcore of Atari Teenage Riot and MGMT experimenting with neo-psychedelia and Suicide-goes-pop melodies. Fasciinatiion ended up being a stale retread of the synthpunk of The Faint’s glory days, exquisitely captured on 2001’s Danse Macabre. Total radio silence followed for a couple of years after that.

Finally, I managed to catch them touring in late 2012; lo and behold, 18 months later, here I am listening to a brand new record by them. It feels strange, like a close but less significant facsimile of that time in 2013 when My Bloody Valentine quietly dropped m b v on the Internets on a Sunday night without so much as a heads-up tweet.

In this case, the strangeness isn’t helped by the fact that the start is so jarring. Lead single “Help In the Head” blasts off with shrill electronic feedback straight out of a vintage Faint cut like 1999’s “Casual Sex”, but that’s where the similarities end (in spite of the album art, which is a sly nod to Hustler’s notorious “meat grinder” cover). Where early Faint reveled in layering bored vocals over ice-cold Gary-Numan-in-2019 new wave loops, 2014-era Faint has a live drum sound that gives the record the sort of rock band punch that has been lacking before (even though they’ve had a live drummer for years).

That said, it’s still not a great single; the chorus is OK, but part of the problem is that lyrics have never been vocalist Todd Fink’s forte, and HIIH follows that predictable pattern of trying to encapsulate political awareness, ethical/spiritual conflict and subsequent nervous breakdowns, all in 4 minutes. “Animal Needs” has the skronk-y guitars typical of Faint (and Bauhaus and Gang of Four, to be fair) material, propelled by a thunderous backbeat, but the anti-consumerism/pro-sexual liberation lyrics let it down; what could have been the band’s “Closer” ends up being a bit of a mixed bag. That said, there’s enough meat on the track for it to absolutely kill in a live setting, where the band truly thrives.

The record does pick up later, with ‘Your Stranger’’s chaotic Devo-like rush. “Loss of Head” is a catchy throwback to the disaffection of their earlier material. “Unseen Hand” jumbles up big, thick basslines with distorted guitars and screaming synths over Fink’s lyrics about the arbitrariness of reality, as opposed to the anti-capitalist screed the title implied, which by the way would be right in the band’s wheelhouse.

A special mention should go out to album closer “Damage Control”; by far the best cut on the album and essentially a complete 180 in terms of mood and tempo. The slowed down, druggy synths with a reverbed, floating vocal overlay is a refreshing break from the relentless aggro feel of the rest of the album.

All things considered, I was slightly disappointed by Doom Abuse; I didn’t feel like I was enjoying the record before the last 4-5 tracks, where the band loosens up. The first half of the record appears to favor grit over entertainment value. If you’re a longtime fan, this approach might come off as overly heavy-handed. The distortion and paranoia dotting the album isn’t exactly new territory for The Faint, but it feels different as it’s missing the dark humor that regularly peeked out of their dystopian cyberpunk fantasies (“Desperate Guys”, “Your Retro Career Melted”). The hooks that made their material staples on your local disco’s Goth Night playlist are still there, but largely buried under a sheen of unconvincingly shouted vocals and canned industrial aggression.

That said, it’s good to see the band stepping out of their comfort zone and attempting something new. I definitely have high hopes for the next record, which if their discography is anything to go by, will be chock-full of the sexually frustrated, Blade Runner-esque paranoid future-punk we know and love the Faint for. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take till 2019 to come out.