It's been four years since The Faint's Wet From Birth, and a lot has happened in the interim: For one, the band ditched longtime label Saddle Creek, opting to produce Fasciinatiion all by itself. (Perhaps the extra I's stand for extra independence?) For another, the nation's renewed taste for new wave—which the Omaha group helped launch—has waned in favor of poppy, upbeat bands that sound more at home in the sunshine. While Fasciinatiion is hardly neon-coated, it's dominated by a surprising aura of playfulness: Every instrument has been fussed-over and stretched beyond recognition, resulting in an otherworldly palate of sounds that borders on comical. Singer Todd Baechle has abandoned his usual sex-and-death motif for oblique, fanciful musings on childhood and space aliens: "Get Seduced" and its tiresome "celebrity culture" riff aside ("How rad is it living under microscope… / Let me buy close-up tabloid shots of your cellulite"), Baechle's tongue-in-cheek detachment hits its stride with "The Geeks Were Right," and he maintains that sense of arch alienation aided by vocal processors that seem to suspend every syllable in liquid nitrogen. The group recaptures its signature dark-wave bounce on the 1-2-3 punch of "Mirror Error," "Forever Growing Centipedes," and "I Treat You Wrong," but it's clear from the glitchy patchwork of "Fulcrum And Lever" and the goofy surrealism of "Fish In A Womb" that The Faint is intent on edging its way out of the dance club and into the light.

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