Rage Against the Machines

The Faint wonders if technology will overtake society

Dec 10, 2008 at 2:06 pm

With synthesizers, guitars and drums substituting for holy books and dystopian scripture, the electronic prophecies of The Faint forewarn of a time when hyper-realistic technology will have consumed human society. While technophobia might be a cliché concept at this point, this five-piece turns charged dance riffs into machine-like rhythms evoking 21st century nightmares, delivering their premonitions in a fresh and compelling fashion.

Perhaps the only thing more striking about their sound (somewhere between Dance Punk, New Wave, Indie and Post Punk) is the fact that it originates in Omaha, Neb. — not quite the first place one might associate with images of a future overrun by technology. Frontman Todd Fink, responsible for the band’s incisive lyrics and transistor-tongued vocals, entirely understands why the band’s hometown is such a surprise to some.

“Omaha is really not a hip place to be from,” he says. “There are a lot of places that are the size of Omaha that there aren’t a whole bunch of good bands from.”

Fink’s self-awareness is evidence of another important characteristic about The Faint: They’re a band that, while deeply dedicated to an unusual aesthetic, isn’t out of touch with who they are in the here and now.

Formed in 1995 under the original name of Norman Bailer, the group was a key force in the creation and growth of Omaha-based Saddle Creek Records. Among a roster that grew to include Cursive, Rilo Kiley, Spoon and Bright Eyes (Conor Oberst, the voice of the latter, even served as The Faint’s guitarist for a brief spell early on), the band released every LP on the label until departing to create blank.wav Records for August’s Fasciinatiion. The split wasn’t bitter; it was just time for a change.

“It kind of makes sense for us to put out our own music at this point, so we did,” Fink says. “We’re planning on putting out our records and hopefully at least our side projects and maybe (moving) to other bands we like or that we’re friends with. (The label) is for the music, it’s not for the money.”

As an album itself, Fasciinatiion is an odd creature. Moving away from the fuller Dance Punk beats of the band’s past work into more cranking bleeps and jarring experimental sounds, the disc’s lyrics contain an abundance of abstract curiosities (“Show us a laser/ Take us to space or let us go,” from “A Battle Hymn for Children”), unusual images (the titular characters of “Forever Growing Centipedes”) and surrealist horrors (“Warp the face that’s stuck to my skull/ It’s just a mask/ Peel the skin away and we’ll trade/ I’m not so attached to this face,” from “Mirror Error”).

Even the full purpose of the album cover featuring an old mystic wearing vaguely religious garb remains mysterious.

“It’s a guy who represents someone thinking about what the humans are really up to,” Fink says. “(It could be) a philosopher or a scientist, just anyone who is contemplating what things are really like or where humans are going, or how long they’ll last.”

While all of this might be awfully strange, that total absence of convention is what makes The Faint’s output so interesting.

Even though a fear of technology isn’t the only thing that Fink writes about (dig into the stripper noir of “Worked Up So Sexual” from 1999’s Blank-Wave Arcade), it’s the basis of some of the best of the band’s oeuvre. In a pair of older examples, “Agenda Suicide” from 2001’s Danse Macabre is about how “the drones work hard before they die” and “Paranoiattack” from 2004’s Wet from Birth concerns a different kind of machine (the political kind) manipulating people and technology to further a war.

When pressed about his use of this material, Fink sparks bigger questions: “What is the difference between us now as humans compared to 10,000 years ago? Are we actually smarter or is our technology more advanced over time?”

Fink rattles off a few obscure influences on his futurist lyrical imagery — Terence McKenna, Buckminster Fuller and Raymond Kurzweil — and then, as evidence that there’s more in the world than just the stake of the future, he momentarily breaks the conversation and talks about the present.

“(A band member is) asking me questions about driving directions,” he says. “They’re all lost, and I’m pacing around this parking lot.”

THE FAINT perform at the Southgate House Dec. 17 with The Show Is The Rainbow and Eat Sugar. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.