FACS - Negative Houses

by Jon Burke Rating:9 Release Date:2018-03-30
FACS - Negative Houses
FACS - Negative Houses

The debut album from Chicago’s FACS is a stunner. Birthed from defunct post-punks, Disappears, FACS is more a sonic evolutionary leap forward than simple reformation. Think of the transition from the Sex Pistols to PIL and you’ll get the picture. Moreover, Pubic Image Limited is a great place to start discussing FACS’ sound because, The Flowers of Romance, immediately comes to mind when listening to the band’s debut recording, Negative Houses. Except, where John Lydon and company spent much of their time sneering apathetically at technical proficiency, FACS chooses to hone their craft. Thus, with FACS, the darkness is darker, the silvery guitar sounds are blindingly chromatic and the rhythm section rumbles along like a freight train in overdrive.

The album’s opener and first single, “Skylarking,” is a high-strung, roiling track. For nearly twenty seconds FACS’ drummer, Noah Leger, sets up a complex rhythmic pattern which bubbles, over and over, until a deep rumble of a bass breaks the tension, only to add more tension with its dark, metallic tone. Vocalist/guitarist Brian Case comes in with an equally disturbing opening verse, sung in an acrid monotone reminiscent of Trent Reznor with a bellyful of benzos. The mood established by “Skylarking,” sets the tone for all of Negative Houses—high tension, a clinically pristine sound and a soaring guitars that seems to owe as much to The Edge as to Keith Levene.

Track three, “Houses Breathing,” is both the longest running song on the record and also the most unique.  After nearly a minute of shoegaze-y drone and feedback, a tempo similar to “Skylarking” sets-in. As “Houses Breathing” rolls along, Case pants into the mic:

“I thought I saw death spreading/ My whole house was breathing”

Then, in labored breaths, Case begins to haltingly gasp for air before, around the six minute mark, a crazy saxophone solo begins wailing. This normally would jerk most listeners out of their trance but soloist, Nick Mazzarella, plays the sax with such precision that the seemingly bizarre solo fits perfectly. “Houses Breathing” is one of those tracks that on paper sounds like a terrible idea but, in execution, comes across as a stroke of brilliance.

Both “Just a Mirror” and “Others” coalesce around complex rhythmic structures and then erupt into fields of guitar feedback and walls of reverb. “Primary” deploys muted harmonics to create an uneasy chirp that Case peppers, in pairs, throughout the track.  “Exit Like You” races along at a steady clip, with Case playing monstrously massive riffs which chime out in waves above Noah Leger’s increasingly complex beat.

The album’s closer, “All Futures,” boasts Case’s best vocal performance and, like “Houses Breathing,” the track offers a range of dynamics, tempo and tonal changes which cause it to stand out among all of Negative Houses’ rather distinctive tracks. So long as they stay together—the recent addition of bassist Alianna Kalaba hopefully being the last big line-up change for a while--all possible futures for FACS look and sound incredibly promising. I’d like to close by saying I look forward to whatever FACS does next but I’m too busy listening to Negative Houses to put much energy into focusing on anything but the present.

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