The Faint's music has been known to make people dance, to even make them climb onstage and strip their clothes off, and don't expect that to stop just because they've made an album about death.
On the recently released Danse Macabre, the Omaha, Nebraska, quintet ponders mortality, but at the same time the Faint show they just can't get enough of the new wave electro-pop experimentation that inspired 1999's Blank-Wave Arcade, a synthesized about-face to their straightforward 1998 indie rock debut, Media.
"Basically we got tired of how we were presenting music live," singer/synth player Todd Baechle said of the band's evolution. "We wanted to make it more of a show have more fun doing it and be more entertaining and try to escape from the indie rock-type sound that we were surrounded by. The kind of guitar-playing that we knew how to play was getting boring for us."
So the band began focusing less on guitars and more on synthesizers, arriving at a sound that is at times vaguely familiar touching on everything from Depeche Mode and Duran Duran to Gary Numan and Nine Inch Nails without ever blatantly borrowing from any one artist.
"We weren't into new wave any more than anybody else," Baechle said. "We just wanted to make more upbeat songs, something more danceable. Keyboards seem to have so many more possibilities than, at least, what we could do with guitars that we ended up having a rock background and then electronic instruments. That's basically what happened in the early '80s with the new wave groups, so I think that's where any similarities stem from."
After motivating scores of normally jaded indie rock fans to shake their Dickies-clad booties on several successful tours behind Blank-Wave Arcade, Baechle and company drummer Clark Baechle, bassist Joel Petersen, synth player Jacob Thiele and guitarist Dapose set out to make an even more danceable record with Danse Macabre.
"We wanted to make sort of a dance club feel," Baechle said, and although he insisted the album is not intended for dance club play, it's easy to imagine the skittish keyboards and pulsing bass of "Glass Danse" fueling a sweaty, churning discotheque. The "upbeat and darker" disc, which recently hit #3 on the CMJ 200 college airplay chart, also uses liberal doses of vocal effects and employs studio techniques the group learned while putting together a remix 12-inch of Blank-Wave Arcade songs.
"Doing [the remix LP] helped us move along toward being more proficient at electronic music and the different little tricks," Baechle said. "In each style of music there's a bag full of tricks, and we like to take from all the different bags as soon as we learn 'em. It doesn't matter if it's pop metal or country or whatever it doesn't really matter where they come from because they're all useful and we find ways to work 'em in."
Which explains the diversity of Danse Macabre. Its nine tracks range from "Posed to Death," whose swingy beat is supplemented by Baechle's repeated pants of "Oh, oh, ah, oh," to "The Conductor," an apocalyptic industrial track that namechecks conductors Leonard Slatkin and Herbert von Karajan.
Although they vary in terms of sound and structure, many of the songs share a common carpe diem theme. On the album's leadoff track, "Agenda Suicide," a driving, bleep-bloop-sprinkled composition with tense waves of keyboard and machine gun spurts of electronic drums, Baechle sings, "As I lay to die, the things I think/ Did I waste my time? I think I did I worked for life/ All we want are just pretty little homes/ Our work makes pretty little homes."
"All of us have been thinking a lot about what death is," he explained, "and what you want to look back on as your life when you're dying. I think it's kind of interesting to think about making sure you're doing what you like with your life just as if it's your last day."
Another track, the bleak and haunting "Ballad of a Paralyzed Citizen," tells the story of a young lifeguard who becomes paralyzed after diving into the shallow end of a pool to rescue a child who was only pretending to be drowning. "I've felt the hand of God/ And that's the last thing that I felt/ At all below my back," the song's protagonist says.
"It's a reminder about how anything could change," Baechle said. "At any moment your life could be ruined or over ... [so] make sure you're doing something that you like with your life. Don't use your life to make somebody else's dreams come true, working for Starbucks or Coke or whatever the big company is that you'd be supporting just to make your life go by."
While Danse Macabre may not immediately convince listeners to re-evaluate their lives, it ought to at least get them dancing. At every show, though, there are a few who are either too cool or too self-conscious to burn some calories. For them, the band offers a musical nudge with "The Passives," a Blank-Wave Arcade track about overcoming inhibitions.
"I don't wanna be the guy who's up there yelling at people to dance," Baechle said, "and yet I still want everyone to dance because I know they have more fun when they do."