Review Summary: The Faint are still pros at crafting innovative electronica-rock that is more dance-y than most contemporaries, but Fasciinatiion is a hit-or-miss affair.
The Faint have released their first album in four years in true DIY fashion, recording, producing, and releasing it on their own label, blank.wav after leaving Saddle Creek. Fans will be happy to know that their sound hasn’t changed all that much; there’s still a heavy amount of vocoder, dark lyrics that fit the industrial moods and tones of their bleep-and-blip electronica, and more synths than you can shake a Depeche Mode record at.
Unlike their previous three albums, Fasciinatiion doesn’t really have any overarching theme, instead jumping around from childhood injuries to the (yawn) price of fame to the (bigger yawn) problems of mixing religion with war. The Faint have always been at their best when their lyrics coincide with their music, and when it comes to their shadowy, instinctive brand of electronica, those themes have normally been primal and violent (see “Erection” or “Drop Kick The Punks” from Wet From Birth or anything from Danse Macabre). Although variety is to be commended, it’s always been more about the feeling with the Faint than with the message.
On some songs, however, the beats are sexy enough to keep the band afloat, as on opener “Get Seduced,” which has some of the dirtiest synths of the year whirling around about the halfway mark, and the buzzing, throbbing guitar rhythms on the following “The Geeks Were Right.” The best song of the bunch, however, is easily the unusually poppy “Psycho,” a jumpy, surprisingly major-key apology with the catchiest chorus on the record.
Like Wet From Birth, the Faint’s previous effort, however, Fasciinatiion is more than a little uneven. “Fulcrum and Lever,” the aforementioned song about an accident in singer Fink’s childhood, is a story in the mold of “Desperate Guys” from Wet From Birth, but unlike that song’s ADHD-violin/drum machine beat, the song trudges along on a mess of gnarled synths and buries Fink’s voice in layers of reverb to the point where there is little difference between verse and chorus.
On “Mirror Error,” one of the record’s bouncier tracks, Fink sings, quite self-consciously, “I might distort myself a bit.” Fink’s voice is certainly more than a little distorted throughout the course of the record, and the worst songs are those that reduce his distinctive pipes to a robotic caricature like the above “Fulcrum and Lever” or the preachy, uninspired “A Battle Hymn for Children,” which has one of the worst beats on the album.
However, the Faint are still pros at crafting innovative electronica-rock that is more dance-y than most contemporaries. While some tracks might drop into boredom (“I Treat You Wrong”) and others build up without really going anywhere (“Fish in a Womb”), the syncopated keyboards and the shouted chorus of “Machine in the Ghost” and the guitar crunch and speeded-up feedback of “Forever Growing Centipedes” are proof that, if everything else fails, the Faint can make a tidy sum moonlighting at a rave.