The Faint would prefer critical evisceration to lukewarm reviews.
THE FAINT with JAGUAR LOVE and GENGHIS TRON at the Opera House (735 Queen East), tonight (August 21), 8 pm. Advance $20.50. 416-466-0313.
In the seven years since The Faint unleashed Danse Macabre, the world of electro indie rock has shifted seismically. Keyboard rock with punk aesthetics and dance-floor allowance wasn't as common early in this decade; now it's pretty rare to see rock bands without at least one member standing behind a Roland Juno.
When the Omaha-based five-piece, which once included a young Conor Oberst, put out Wet From Birth in 2004, the consensus was that they couldn't find their songwriting feet, leaving us wondering if the Faint were running to keep up instead of leading.
Four years later, their new record, Fasciinatiion (blank.wav), is upon us and you wonder if they're feeling some degree of pressure from these changing tides. Synth specialist Jacob Thiele shrugs off the suggestion; he insists music trends aren't about to knock out the Faint.
"We don't have any loyalty to the sounds we've already created," says Thiele from North Carolina. "I didn't personally feel that kind of pressure [for Fasciinatiion], as I'm pretty weary of trends in music.
"We want to be different, try new things, explore new territory. At the same time, we realize with this album that we're relying on some tried and tested methods. I think maybe there's some hesitation to go too far out there."
Reviews of Fasciinatiion have been mixed. Some critics charge them with not going far enough "out there," gripping tightly to a formula that sounded fresh in 01 but now seems passé. Negative reviews don't faze Thiele. In fact, he enjoys them.
"I wish I heard more reviews that just hate the record," he says dryly. "Those are easy to brush off, and they're more entertaining - to find someone who wholeheartedly disagrees with you. If we're not disappointing, we're not doing our job."
Besides, to say the Faint haven't changed is inaccurate, at least in terms of the way they operate within the group. First was their split with Omaha art rock institution Saddle Creek, a high-pedigree label started by Oberst that has hefty indie cred. Second was the decision to build their own studio, create their own label and forgo any outside producer's involvement, opting to self-run the new record.
"We worked so hard on the songs that we didn't want somebody else to screw them up," he explains. "And then when we screw them up, we don't have anybody to blame but ourselves." Having free rein and no one to say "when" are dangerous propositions for the Faint.
Fasciinatiion is extremely busy, with digital flourishes crammed into every corner of every song. That chaotic mix gives it a frenetic energy that underlines the uncomfortable imagery and tales of twisted conflicts. But it's also distracting and feels at times like it could have used a producer's presence.
"That's one part that we did kind of miss having - an outside opinion, having that kind of limitation or support or advice.
"But when you do something yourself, you really experience it. You're not just floating along and letting everybody else handle things for you. You do things and you learn, and learning is living, because if you didn't learn anything you wouldn't really be alive."
Jacob Thiele on starting a label:
Thiele on The Faint sound: