Wednesday, August 27, 2008

“Fasciinatiion” with flavors of moments past, still lingering on our tongues.

iFlavors of the minute, at various moments in time, are not intended to last or taste good on your tongue after their moment is gone. Musical flavors of hipster moments, although “indie” and hypothetically less “intentional” from a marketing stance, usually prove no exception to this idea.

When a past temporary flavor happens to accidentally prove its staying-power, however, the critic and culture find themselves at a crux. The very short-lived couture that made the act or work of art so monumentally popular for a time itself provides the basis for discounting the credibility of the act’s bid for longer-term pertinence.

I can think of a fair number of examples of this phenomenon off the top of my head, within the loose walls of “indie” music of the past decade alone. These are records that self-righteous, fashion-jumping hipsters will grumble and cringe to hear someone playing, with complaints of the listener being slow on the uptake or strangling out the last hold they had on a passed and expired moment, but popping in in their own cars when they know that no on else can hear, or getting a pang of guilty joy inside when a dj at a trendy club spins a track as a “throwback.”

The Postal Service’s “Give Up.” Hot Hot Heat’s “Make Up The Breakdown.” Bright Eyes’ “Lifted, or…” Bloc Party’s “Silent Alarm.” The Faint’s “Danse Macabre.” Just a few examples.

With the recent release of “Fasciinatiion,” The Faint has made my mind presently turn to these paradoxes of past popularity, the “where do we go now?” aspect of being a flavor-of-the-minute of a moment past.

After “Wet From Birth,” the decidedly hit-or-miss follow-up to “Danse Macabre,” I wasn’t sure what to expect from the new record. Like so many of these releases that resonate nearly instantly as every-art-scene-kid’s-temporary-new-favorite-band, many of the aspects that made “Danse Macabre” so popular proved either absent or less accessible on “Wet From Birth,” and the fervour of and for the music consequently diminished. (“Elevator,” the follow-up to Hot Hot Heat’s “Make Up The Breakdown,” seems like an accurate parallel in this regard. Both “Elevator” and “Wet From Birth” are solid records in their own right, but both took a few listens to warm up to, and either altered or removed elements of the records that they followed that were important factors in what made those albums so irresistible.)

“Fasciinatiion” definitely does not come off as The Faint attempting to return to their “Danse Macabre”-era sound as a mere attempt at recapturing the pinnacle of their past moment of fleeting-chic. The band has, however, reinstated some of the elements of past records that were conspicuously missing on the last release. For only one instance, some of the poetic lyrical sensibilities from earlier records are added back to the mix, combined with, rather than completely replacing, the jarringly- honest, realism-to-the-point-of-superficiality material that dominated most of “Wet From Birth” (the “I was standing at the merch-booth putting on maaaake-up” moments in the song “Desperate Guys” are only one apt example of this; I was able to warm up to the record much more thoroughly when I began to wonder if the majority of the songs were written from the perspectives of deeply superficial fictional characters, and, whether this idea is right or wrong, I still have a much easier time listening to the album when I assume that they were).

Instead, “Fasciinatiion” is a well-written and exceedingly listenable record on its own; the current stage of evolution of a band with an actual career discography, not merely the hangings-on of a temporary flash in a proverbial pan that the listener was intended to have forgotten by now. The elements of the act’s prior works combine to form the canvas on which the new elements of the band’s progressing sound are placed on top of as collage-elements. The poetic stylizing and incessant, dirty sexual dance-energy of “Dance Macabre,” the electronics-first focus and club-kid social realisms of “Wet From Birth,” and even some of the vocal-melody stylings that the band hasn’t really revisited since “Blankwave Arcade” are all evident here. Rather than being a mere conglomerate of their past catalog, however, “Fasciinatiion” also adds increasing creativity in the skill of electronics production. Compared to the beats constructed for “Wet From Birth,” which seem at times fairly sterile, The Faint’s techno-prowess has expanded tremendously. Another welcome change comes with the sort of dance-beats chosen this time around. The band has this time nearly forgone the pulsing pogo-robot click-tracks that were the accepted rhythm of dance-punk when their first couple of records were released for something more often like hip-hop-inspired grooves that invite a more break-dance-friendly sort of energy, which seems more accurately in tune with the way that the indie-electro movement has progressed around them over the course of their career. There are moments on “Fasciinatiion” when the influence of electro acts that are closer to the current hipster flavor-of-the-minute seem probable. In certain tracks, I hear production reminiscent of the current Brooklyn scene (a couple of songs have a definite LCD Soundsystem vibe to my ear) and some of the dirty-synth clippiness that makes an occasional appearance reminds me of certain tracks by French acts like Justice.

This isn’t to say that “Fasciinatiion” sounds like The Faint is merely band-wagon jumping to get another shot at being part of the current “big thing.” It sounds, rather, like they are coming to terms with developing a recording catalog with a different paradigm of success, one less concerned with regaining their scenester-chic, and more interested in acquiring a longer-term respect and viability. To do so, they have combined on their most recent outing elements that they have learned to be successful for them in the past, along with present-tense influences of an evolving electronic music community.

If thinking about The Faint makes you reminisce pleasantly about their “Dance Macabre”-era height of popularity, and the urgent sexual-scenester-energy that accompanied it, a pleasurable flavor that you enjoyed in a moment past, “Fasciinatiion” offers the best opportunity since then to take another, and possibly a longer-lasting, taste.

In other news... The Stiletto Formal (whose last EP I reviewed in a past entry) have released two new tracks from their forthcoming LP on their Myspace page. Check them out, I like them... they're mighty eclectic, and make me look forward to hearing the new record quite a bit.

My Metro-Grime/ dirty/noisy electro-rock act Tipsy Cougar recently posted two new tracks to our Myspace site as well. One of them is a track called "USOCS," which I wrote about recently on this blog in another past entry. The other is a song that was previously posted as an acoustic track on my solo music profile. Check them out, let me know what you think, and feel free to download the tracks from the sites for free.

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