Beginning as lo-fi, acoustic tribute to mid-90s indie rock, Omaha's The Faint have morphed into a keyboard heavy, new wave juggernaut, combining dance rhythms, heavily distorted guitars, and an almost industrial-like grind to create seductive odes to sex, death, and all that falls between. Todd Baechle (vocals/keyboards), Clark Baechle (drums), Joel Petersen (bass), Jacob Theile (keyboards), and Mike Dappen a.k.a. Dapose (guitar), not to mention a cast of other local musicians, helped form what is now known as the Omaha scene; a collective of Omaha-based musicians and bands that revolve around Saddle Creek Records, for whom The Faint record. But, unlike the guitar-heavy sounds of Cursive or the folk-centric musings of Bright Eyes (two other Saddle Creek bands), The Faint have etched their own niche, providing a darker, more synthetic version of the rock and pop that has made the Omaha music scene a talked about commodity.
The evolution of The Faint can be traced back to the rambunctious indie-guitar band Commander Venus. Comprised of drummer Ben Armstrong (who went on to help form Gabardine and Head of Femur), guitarist Rob Nansel (owner of Saddle Creek Records), guitarist/vocalist Conor Oberst (who would later go on to form Bright Eyes, and Desaparecidos) and bassist/future Faint singer Todd Baechle. The band formed in 1994, when the members hovered around the mean age of 14. The band's lineup revolved a bit, and included at one time Matt Bowen (a future member of The Faint, and also of Race for Titles) and Cursive guitarist/vocalist Tim Kasher. The band had a number of releases, including a contribution of the track "Pay Per View" for Ghostmeat Records' Apollo's Savage compilation (1995), their first full length album called Do You Feel at Home? (released in 1995 on Lumberjack Records, now known as Saddle Creek), and the song "Bow to the Prom Queen" on a split 7" single with the band Dip for Ghostmeat Records in 1996.
In 1997, the band released their second album, The Uneventful Vacation, on Chicago's Thick Records. Compared to the likes of Superchunk, Pavement, Sunny Day Real Estate, and the Pixies by All Music Guide, Thick Records' biography on the band called The Uneventful Vacation a "seminal emo record." In a review of the record, All Music Guide said, "The Uneventful Vacation does sound like a young band still perfecting their style, but in its sloppiness is a lot of its charm. Like Cap N' Jazz and other bands of soon to be indie stars, Commander Venus have a raw untamed energy and though it overextends itself from time to time; numbers like 'Jeans TV' and the vocal trading 'Lock 'n' Chase' are filled with the kind of infectious rock that makes a band truly endearing."
While Commander Venus was on the verge of calling it a day, Oberst began playing in Park Ave. with Todd Baechle's brother Clark. Though Clark was a drummer by trade and Oberst was known as a singer/guitarist, the two switched instruments to birth Park Ave. Along with keyboardist Jenn Bernard, guitarist Jamie Williams (who went on to join Tilly and the Wall) and bassist Neely Jenkins (also of Tilly and the Wall), the group played around Omaha, as well as regionally. The band recorded a split 7" with the Wrens, contributed two tracks to Saddle Creek Records: A Sampler CD, and issued their only full length, When Jamie Went to London... We Broke Up in 1999 on Urinine Records. The album, culled from 4-track recordings the band set to tape before Williams left for London, earned the already defunct band some reviews, including one from Ink 19. The zine said, "This is another case of kids getting together to start a band with rough ideas of what they're doing and happening to stumble out some great pop songs in spite of themselves."
According to All Music Guide, however, the band never considered themselves a real group, and even went so far as to try and talk clubs out of booking them for gigs. Over the course of three years, the band played around 10 to 15 shows, and when Williams went to London, the band really did break up.
Through the rise and fall of Commander Venus and Park Ave., the seeds were planted for the original version of what would become The Faint. Things started rolling for The Faint when the Magnetas, a short-lived band that featured Todd Baechle, Conor Oberst, Ben Armstrong, and Chris Huges (who went on to play in Gabardine and Beep Beep), dissolved. It was then that the Baechle brothers, former Gabardine member Joel Petersen and Oberst formed the band Norman Bailer, and released "Music Me All Over" (a split 7" with Commander Venus on Lumberjack Records in 1995), as well as the cassette-only release Sine Sierra on Lumberjack Records in 1996. According to All Music Guide, Norman Bailer's early years were, "a mix of lo-fi pop and tongue-in-cheek easy listening with a touch of punk rock ideals borrowed from their early skateboarding days." Oberst left the band following these early releases, and was replaced by bassist Matt Bowen. When Bowen joined, the band's focus shifted away from their folk leanings and more towards paying homage to indie rock bands like Pavement and Archers of Loaf, as well as giving slight nods to new-wave bands like OMD.
For the Record . . .
Members include Clark Baechle , drums; Todd Baechle , vocals, keyboards; Gretta Cohn , cello; Mike Dappen (also known as Dapose), guitar; Joel Petersen , bass; Jacob Theile , keyboards.
Group formed in Omaha, NE, c. 1994; early version of group released songs on various indie compliations, 1990s; released debut album Media, 1998; core line-up of group solidified, 1998-99; released Blank-Wave Arcade on Saddle Creek, 1999; released Danse Macabre, 2001; Danse Macabre Remixes released, 2003; Wet from Birth released, 2004.
Addresses: Record company—Saddle Creek Records, P.O. Box 8554, Omaha, NE 68108-0554, website: http://www.saddle-creek.com/home.html. Website— The Faint Official Website: http://www.thefaint.com.
In 1997, The Faint contributed two tracks, "Typing: 1974-2048" and "Some Incriminating Photographs" to the same Saddle Creek Records compilation that featured Park Ave. They followed up those tracks by delivering their first full length, Media, on Saddle Creek Records in 1998. All Music Guide said, "Bearing likeness to peers ranging from Cursive to Lullaby for the Working Class, as well as to influences like the Cure, Media is a rock record with new wave sentiments and melodic ideals. Vocalist Todd Baechle has a powerful presence, and his mildly affected vocals consistently build toward slightly abstract yet hook-laden choruses. Tracks like 'Some Incriminating Photographs' feature bouncy drumbeats and loose guitars, and others, like 'Lullaby for The...,' contain uncharacteristic acoustic string arrangements." They went on to say that "Media is a rock record, and a good one at that."
Following the release of Media, The Faint made a stylistic, as well as personnel, change that would influence future musical output. In 1998, Matt Bowen left The Faint to pursue projects like Magic Kisses and Race for Titles. Bowen's replacement came in the form of bassist Ethan Jones (who would go on to play in Putrescine and Lady Finger) and synthesizer player Jacob Thiele. In the summer of 1999, with Bowen out of the band but on the recording, the band contributed the track "Brokers, Priests, and Analysts" to a split 7" with the band Ex-Action Figures that was released on Saddle Creek Records.
Between that summer and on into the fall, The Faint solidified their core lineup with the exit of Jones. Petersen took over Jones' bass duties and Todd Baechle put down his guitar and began playing keyboards exclusively. The now-guitarless quartet began experimenting with a sound that drew more from new wave bands like Duran Duran and Depeche Mode, as well as incorporating manually controlled light shows and an all-black stage uniform into their live performances. In an interview with Lazy-I Zine, Petersen said, "We're trying to do something entertaining; we don't want people to just stand there and watch us play."
In 1999, The Faint issued Blank-Wave Arcade for Saddle Creek, giving fans a taste of a much different sound than they displayed on Media. A review in CMJ said, "What separates The Faint from other retrofuturists (e.g. Stephin Merritt's synth-loving Gothic Archies), is that the band's core is all rock, and its use of dated synths and drum machines is merely cosmetic, as opposed to a lingering gimmick. Even if frontman Todd Baechle's vocals remain sufficiently David Gahan-ishly dour throughout Blank-Wave Arcade, The Faint is a nervy, forward-thinking force to be reckoned with, and not just a tribute band in disguise." Called "an album about sex" by Pitchfork Media, the site went on to say that, "Perhaps it's that these guys not only have balls, but that they also possess a certain creativity that's generally non-existent in today's new wave stuff. Not only are their songs brilliantly catchy, they're also inventive in terms of both songwriting and instrumentation. Where you might expect a lot of stupid, plinky Casiotones, you'll instead find hard-assed, fuzzy analog noise peppered with unexpected buzzes and whirs that enter the mix at just the right moment."
Following a limited edition remix-LP of songs from Blank-Wave Arcade, as well as a tour support CD issued by independent online retailer Insound, The Faint released their third full length, Danse Macabre, on Saddle Creek in 2001. Instead of a lyrical stance that revolved around sex, much of the considerably darker scenarios on Danse Macabre dealt with what happens when life stops, instead of how it all began. In an interview with Lazy-I zine, Todd Baechle said, "Rather than analyzing different things about sex, this one sort of does that with death. Neither album is all about sex or death, but there is sort of a death theme this time." The songs themselves were taken down a darker path as well, drawing comparisons to Nine Inch Nails and Front 242. The record, which introduced ex-death metal guitarist Dapose and prominently featured cellist Gretta Cohn, earned attention from the press, prompting Aversion.com to say that Danse Macabre, "doesn't put on a happy face. In fact, it delivers its sour observations without even the slightest lack of objectivity, a cold approach that makes this album all the more chilling. Those gray skies aren't going to clear up."
Lost At Sea magazine said, "The Faint offer up a grocery list of instant dance/drug classics that re-prove the already concrete fact that retro is never a trend, that old styles never die, and that borrowing from the past can result in remarkable inroads to the future. 'Your Retro Career Melted' and 'Let The Poison Spill From Your Throat' are both worthy of repeated repeats, but the standout on this album is 'Ballad Of A Paralysed Citizen,' the track which Gretta Cohn, Cursive's new cellist, contributes to, giving The Faint an even more organic sound than they had previously."
The band's next releases, however, would center on the highly synthetic. First, in 2001, the band released the "Mote/Dust" 12" on Gold Standard Laboratories, featuring two remixes, a Sonic Youth cover ("Mote") and two songs that saw the band joining forces with Oberst. Following the single, the band released Danse Macabre Remixes in 2003 on Astralwerks (the first time the band had released anything not on Saddle Creek), featuring remixes by the likes of Paul Oakenfold, Photek, and the Calculators, among others.
After an almost three year gap of no original new music, which saw the band headlining their own theatre shows, ditching the all black uniforms for a more casual look, and replacing their minimal lightshow with a video monitors and homemade films by the band, The Faint returned to Saddle Creek and released Wet from Birth in September of 2004. Popmatters.com mused, "Wet from Birth sounds like an attempt to figure out what The Clash would sound like if they formed in the new millennium and were influenced by synth-pop." Spin magazine, who ranked Wet from Birth at number 32 as a part of their top 40 records of 2004, said, "This group used to sound painfully self-conscious about their retro instrumentation, but on their fourth record, they ditched the quote marks and made their moldy old synthesizers rock in ways Nine Inch Nails only dreamed."
Media, Saddle Creek, 1998.
Blank-Wave Arcade, Saddle Creek, 1999.
Danse Macabre, Saddle Creek, 2001.
Danse Macabre Remixes, Astralwerks, 2003.
Wet from Birth, Saddle Creek, 2004.
Spin, December 22, 2004.
"Commander Venus," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (March 22, 2005).
"The Faint," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (March 22, 2005).
"The Faint: Blank-Wave Arcade," Pitchforkmedia.com, http://pitchforkmedia.com/record-reviews/f/faint/blank-wave-arcade.shtml (March 22, 2005).
"The Faint: Blank-Wave Messiahs," Lazy-i.com, http://www.timmcmahan.com/thefaint.htm (March 22, 2005).
"Faint: Danse Macabre," Aversion.com, http://www.aversion.com/bands/reviews.cfm?f_id=664 (March 22, 2005).
The Faint Official Website, http://www.thefaint.com (March 22, 2005).
"The Faint: Wet from Birth," PopMatters, http://www.popmatters.com/music/reviews/f/faint-wetfrombirth.shtml (March 22, 2005).
Lost at Sea.net, http://www.lostatsea.net (March 22, 2005).
Saddle Creek Records Official Website, http://www.saddle-creek.com (March 22, 2005).
Saddle Creek Reviews, http://www.saddle-creek.com/bands/reviews.php?id_number=51 (March 22, 2005).
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