"Wet From Birth"
TV ON THE RADIO
"Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes"
Touch and Go
The Faint is known as the synth-pop contingent from Saddle Creek, the Omaha label whose most celebrated act is alt-folkie combo Bright Eyes. The Faint's fourth album, "Wet From Birth," immediately establishes that the band has diversified: It opens with a violin flourish that presages an album full of string arrangements. The song that follows, "Desperate Guys," features the customary electronic timbres, which the group has by no means abandoned.
Instead, it piles them atop various other styles, yielding overdone -- yet still catchy -- numbers such as "Southern Belles in London Sing." The result suggests Depeche Mode kidnapped by a Gypsy orchestra, with the added perplexity of lyrics that seem to be reinterpretations of a sex-education textbook. (The album's title derives from a song that describes a trip down the birth canal.) "Wet From Birth" is a motley, somewhat silly affair, but at least it will make describing the Faint's sound a more complicated undertaking.
Rather than violin, TV on the Radio opens its "Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes" with a snatch of saxophone, one of several gambits it uses to vary its synth-based, minor-key style. One of the New York trio's strategies is to draw on the vocal traditions of gospel, soul and doo-wop; "Ambulance," for example, is almost entirely a cappella. Singer Tunde Adepimbe's resonant voice is the band's principal distinction, but it's not enough to distinguish this album's more droning material, which derives largely from the Joy Division tradition. Perhaps the best introduction to TV on the Radio's work is a new three-song EP, "New Health Rock," which includes the up-tempo, funky title song as well as "The Wrong Way," the album's sax-tinged opener, a driving inquiry into African American stereotypes.
Punk-funk quartet Beep Beep doesn't sound like any other band that records for Saddle Creek, although its members have multiple ties to other Omaha outfits; in fact, bassist Joel Peterson also plays in the Faint. The music on Beep Beep's "Business Casual" is less parochial: It reaches to London, New York and Washington. Singer-guitarists Eric Bemberger and Chris Hughes howl like fractured-funk banshees Poly Styrene, James Chance and especially Washington's Ian Svenonius (currently of Weird War). If not exactly unique, such songs as "I Am the Secretary" and "Electronic Wolves" approach the intensity of Beep Beep's models, and the album certainly doesn't dawdle: These 10 squawking rockers shove by in less than 28 minutes.
-- Mark Jenkins
Appearing Sunday at the 9:30 club. * To hear a free Sound Bite from the Faint, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8110; to hear TV on the Radio, press 8111; to hear Beep Beep, press 8112. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)