Lifelike is the sophomore release from Chicago’s FACS, a trio featuring ex-Disappears members Brian Case (guitar/vocal) and Noah Ledger (drums), with Alianna Kalaba (bass) replacing Jonathan van Herik who played on 2018 debut Negative Houses.
“[Lifelike] is a glowering morass of a record, seething with foreboding and very, very dark.”
Let’s nail down a few pointers for starters. Lifelike is not easy listening, nor was it ever designed to be. It’s wriggles away from attempts to pigeon-hole it; there are certainly components of post-rock within, but with precious little light to contrast to the shade. It is a glowering morass of a record, seething with foreboding and very, very dark. The six songs are more inflicted upon the listener than presented, almost daring you to pick up the gauntlet.
Another Country is our introduction, setting the tone for the record by leading off with a drone sound strung out for no less than 48 seconds before any other accompaniment sets in. This is FACS’ uncompromising approach to their music. Songs are given time and space to develop organically, nothing is rushed, while stark experimental ideas flicker like dying lightbulbs throughout.
“Drones exhale and loops trigger hypnotically over ever more insistent drumming to the point where it feels as if the song is beginning to dismantle you from the inside.”
In Time unfolds over a skipping palpitation of bass drum and hi-hat, while Case’s playing gradually compounds an assault. On XUXA, brutal guitar chords collapse in on the song while on Anti-Body an unsettling time signature adds to the sense of disorientation.
At its best, such as previously-released album taster Total History, Lifelike is a cathartic experience. Frantic discordant strumming gives way to a doom-laden bassline before Ledger’s interruption of rhythm begins to build. The track morphs from this into a slow crescendo ear-splitter of a finale. Drones exhale and loops trigger hypnotically over ever more insistent drumming to the point where it feels as if the song is beginning to dismantle you from the inside. FACS ensure that this brings the experience to close, knowing full well that there will be nothing left to give.
“Lifelike is courageously experimental… with no intention to glibly appeal.”
If there is a criticism of Lifelike, it is perhaps that the ambition of Total History engulfs the rest of the material. In hindsight the other songs which go before – at least in passages – suggest a treading of water which as strong a denouement as Total History easily blows away. Lifelike is courageously experimental though, with no intention to glibly appeal. It is a challenging and confrontational listen, perhaps more to admire then truly enjoy. Uneasy listening, then; but there is beauty lurking somewhere in that brutality.
Words: Iain Dalgleish
Released 29 March 2019
Label: Trouble in Mind