Faint praise: Retro electro-pop -- from Nebraska?
Faint praise: Retro electro-pop -- from Nebraska?

The Faint

It's somewhat comforting to know that the remains of the dead can fertilize new life. It's a concept often found outside the realm of biology and one that can be seen in the genealogy of several of today's most dynamic indie bands. An obvious example is the Cap'n Jazz dynasty; the members of the mid-'90s Chicago math-emo quintet have gone on to spawn a diverse collection of projects including the Promise Ring, Joan of Arc, American Football, and Pele.

A similar but younger web of exploding talent has emerged from a collective of Omaha, Nebraska, musicians operating under the aegis of Saddle Creek Records. The single common denominator linking these artists is a late-'90s band by the name of Commander Venus. From the ashes of Commander Venus has sprung forth a slew of creativity in the form of the Faint, Cursive, Bright Eyes, and the record label itself (C. Venus guitarist Robb Nansel is Saddle Creek's proprietor).

These Omaha bands have each carved a unique stylistic niche -- Cursive playing heartbroken hard-core, Bright Eyes making schizophrenic folk albums that seethe with the sounds of growing pains, and the Faint mining electro-pop territory. While the first two groups look to the future and to their own generation for inspiration, the Faint is firmly rooted in the past.

There's a series of familiar names that could be used to describe the group's retro New Wave constructions -- New Order, Psychedelic Furs, the Cure, Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, etc. While none of those are strictly accurate representations of the band, the associations give you some idea of what the Faint is all about. This is electronica created with 20-year-old analog synthesizers, instead of new turntables, sequencers or samplers.

The Faint's second album, blank-wave arcade, is a sensually charged paean to both the band's forefathers and the current era's concepts of freedom, morality and sexuality. From the opener, "Sex Is Personal," the Faint makes it clear that all they have is questions, not answers. Describing a new relationship, singer Todd Baechle exclaims, "Yeah, a part of me can deal with these open relations; but "concept' to "do' is like "yes' to a "goal' . . . it's unclear how it happens, maybe we'll act how we planned it."

The imagery and subject matter on blank-wave arcade aren't limited to sex -- there's a story of holding back the urge to block an ambulance trying to reach a burning car ("Cars Pass in Cold Blood"), tales of playing music for kids trying to lose themselves ("In Concert"), and the epidemic indifference of American youth ("The Passives"). Still, the Faint is at its best when it oozes songs like "Worked Up So Sexual," a questioning glance directed at erotic dancers (PC for strippers) that asks, "I see you work at night, are you sexually amused? What's it like to have a room of guys encircling you?" The Faint's "sexual" element, which at first appears to be a gimmick, is, on closer examination, a collection of very introspective observations on the confused morality of today's youth.

The Faint's members are archaeologists using what they discover in the music of the past to channel their modern psychosis. New Wave was always a sexually charged sound, whether it was Depeche Mode's "Master and Servant" or Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf," to name just a couple mainstream examples. The Faint carries on this tradition in an equally danceable, yet infinitely more intelligent, form.

The Faint is scheduled to perform on Saturday, July 15, at Modified, with Vue, Camera Obscura, and Death of Marat. Showtime is 9 p.m.


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