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FACS - Lifelike Music Album Reviews

On their second release, the Disappears alums turn mercurial, whipping their habitual post-rock into more impressionistic, unpredictable forms.

Disappears were a perfectly named band. Over the course of five studio albums, the Chicago quartet took the standard indie-rock starter kit—Velvets-schooled guitar noise, motorik propulsion, hectoring post-punk sing-speak—and gradually melted it down until all traces of the band’s initial identity had been obliterated. Post-rock has become synonymous with large orchestral ensembles and sweeping crescendos, but the term was originally meant to describe artists that used traditional rock instrumentation to make music that steadfastly did not rock in any traditional sense. And on their 2015 album Irreal, Disappears’ swan song, they honored that original definition, forsaking their signature fuzz-covered thrust for skin-piercing guitar pricks, stalking post-industrial rhythms, and pure gothic dread.

In hindsight, it’s tempting to label Irreal as the first album by FACS, the post-Disappears outfit formed by singer/guitarist Brian Case (who initially moved to bass), guitarist Jonathan van Herik, and drummer Noah Leger. The group’s 2018 debut, Negative Houses, effectively picked up right where their previous band left off, with an increasingly atmospheric spin on post-hardcore that suggested Slint given a King Tubby remix. But even in its slowest, most methodical moments, Negative Houses bristled with a punk-fueled intensity, its predatory lurches giving way to frenetic, white-knuckled climaxes.

Following the departure of van Herik and the addition of former We Ragazzi drummer Alianna Kalaba on bass (allowing Case to return to guitar), FACS turn both more mercurial and minimalist on their second release, Lifelike. The new record feels less like a collection of proper songs than a series of evolutionary steps as the band unmoors itself from its taut rhythmic foundation to drift further out into the chop, and not always with a set destination in mind. It’s the sort of record where each successive track seems to embellish ideas introduced by its immediate predecessor: After the murky opener “Another Country” establishes the album’s burbling, seasick feel, “In Time” adds the impressionistic smears of guitar squall that become Case’s go-to trick over the remainder of the record. It’s easy to see why he’s so enamored with it: Like an aluminum sheet bending and wobbling in your hands, the sound is metallic and monochromatic, but produces radiant flashes of light at the right angle.

Though the ominous air is as thick as ever, and Case’s curt, cryptic phrasing is all the more brutally blunt (“Nothing left to save/Burn it down/Get out”), Lifelike is an oddly restrained record—perpetually roiling and churning, but with precious few moments of cathartic release. The band wades through the sludgy riddims of “Anti-Body” like the Jesus Lizard on muscle relaxants, dialing down the temperature just when it feels like the song is about boil over; “Loom State,” meanwhile, summons the thundering ritualistic clamor of Drum’s Not Dead-era Liars, albeit without the wild abandon. But if Lifelike’s individual songs can’t always muster the strength to deliver a dramatic payoff, the album itself does. With the closing “Total History,” FACS distill all the preceding experiments in Dub Like Jehu discord and apocalyptic fridge-magnet poetry into an exhilarating eight-minute epic, making good on Lifelike’s exploratory promise and razing the path for their next step into the unknown.

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