Mood and atmosphere are addictive. Nothing will draw me into an artist’s music or an album quicker than a coherent vibe. While this doesn’t always have to be some immersive, claustrophobic wall of sound, that is guaranteed to get my attention. Give me dissonance. Feed me grim moods. Bathe my ears in tension. Make it feel like I am in a sensory deprivation chamber of sound. There are few artists that execute that feeling of being on the verge of sleep, where dreams insert themselves into your remaining waking consciousness like Chicago’s FACS.
Formed in 2016 after the breakup of Disappears, FACS have delivered 5 albums of a growing, yet signature sound that mixes the rhythmic dynamism of Chicago indie and alternative bands like The Sea and Cake, Tortoise, and Shellac with post-punk’s spidery guitars and dub’s bass-heavy density. Vocally, frontman Brian Case provides sung/spoken poetics that add to the push and pull of the musical depth with sparse, but poetic cogitations concerning the fears and concerns of modern existence.
Everything Is Noise has only touched on FACS thus far, and it is with great pleasure that I get to feature this band that I’ve spent many hours listening to since I was recommended them around the time their third album, Void Moments, was released. Brian, who handles multiple duties in the band and has been the most consistent member answered a few questions so we may get to know them better.
One can pick out dozens of potential influences in FACS‘s music. Amidst the Public Image Ltd., A Certain Ratio, Unwound, and art-punk sounds, Brian says:
‘We’re heavily influenced by our surroundings, each of our day to day is very different and provides a unique lens that we use to communicate with each other. We all love different types of music, books, and film, but gravitate towards different sounds and ideas. I think at our core we value the way we’ve been ‘raised’ so to speak playing music and are very conscious of how we want to stay true to the ideas and influences that have kept us moving forward with music for so long.’
The influence of the city is undeniable, ‘This band would be totally different in another city. We are all very tied to this scene / city physically and spiritually.’ This registers for me, even though I am not a Chicagoan. I live close enough to the Second City that I visit there several times a year, usually for concerts. If there is one thing I can say about Chicago, it is that it carries an intensity and rhythm that is easily analogous to the music of FACS.
This is music that embodies the ambiance of a dark alley behind an art dealer. There’s a fog, but from where? The haze of the city, perhaps, melding with tobacco and cannabis, the comfort of familiarity and unease of the unexpected. Though maybe the video for “Strawberry Cough” from 2021’s Present Tense can offer some specifics:
Of course, music this artfully crafted doesn’t happen in a vacuum. On their writing and rehearsal process Brian said:
‘We have regular rehearsals where we experiment and record, take those recordings home and all spend time with them away from each other, and then come back and discuss ideas as a group. This has been a really great way to push things outside of the box, as we’re always conscious of not repeating ourselves, even though a lot of times our refinements are subtle. The improvisation always comes first and dictates how we land on final composition. At our core we’re pretty dubby and dreamy, but from Chicago haha.
‘We really just focus on not being precious at the beginning of the writing process, every idea is explored, and oftentimes it’s not until listening back to something that I hear the possibilities or weird nuances that are already a part of the initial ideas. There is an inherent language in how we communicate musically, we each have our own voice, so it’s kind of more about trimming the fat a lot of times. Personally I try to leave a lot of room for Noah and Jonathan to connect and I’m more atmosphere and mood. They do a lot of the heavy lifting.’
Lyrically, finding inspiration and a voice requires a different set of tools than musical inspiration. When asked about his songwriting, Brian said:
‘I’m always taking notes, little passages I read or a few words that sound cool for whatever reason. I generally lean more towards esoteric ideas or existential questions, but really just try and read as much as possible to keep my brain engaged. My favorite contemporary writer is David Keenan, too many lyricists to count. I have two kids so whatever future awaits them is on my mind a lot, I use songwriting to push a lot of those darker thoughts out of my mind and try and keep it positive for them in our daily life.’
The band’s output has been consistently intriguing. The core sound from 2018’s Negative Houses has stuck around, but with each successive release, FACS have dove further into heavier, noisier sounds, shoegaze touches, and refined the sounds they have already been working with. 2023 saw the release of their fifth album, Still Life in Decay (Trouble In Mind), which at times sounds like Gang of Four on a heavy LSD trip. Keep your eyes open for more from FACS in the coming years, ‘We’ve got a few limited releases lined up for this year and a new album slated for January 2025. We’re working out some tour plans now but will spend most of our time getting ready for 2025,‘ Brian says.