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The Faith - Subject to Change plus First Demo

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Artist: The Faith

Album: Subject to Change plus First Demo

Label: Dischord

Review date: Nov. 11, 2011

The Faith - "In The Black (version)" (Subject to Change plus First Demo)

Several strata of friend-bands exist. Sometimes, one’s friends play lamentable music, which you will drag yourself to see irregularly, offering excuses and inventing conflicts as often as possible; every once in a while, a friend’s band is legitimately great. In between lies the solid friend-band, a band comprised of stand-up individuals who sound awesome live, whose shows you will delightedly attend and whose records you will purchase and look back upon fondly, even as you acknowledge they weren’t the greatest thing ever.

The Faith often seems like the latter type of friend-band. In the annals of early ‘80s D.C. hardcore, and in just about every interview with one of the era’s punks, they’re ranked as one of the scene’s best bands, and photos of their shows look absolutely insane. But for a latecomer, something feels lacking in their recorded output. This is, in part, due to their pairing with Void on the classic 1983 split LP on Dischord. Where the Faith sound pissed, Void sound unhinged. Faith play ferociously competent hardcore while Void produce an inimitable chaos, incarnating teenage bedroom frustrations in a squalling atonal guitar, bass and drums that play by their own rules, manic tempo changes, and general oddities (see especially the child-voices on “Organized Sports”). In some sense, it’s a misfortune that the Faith ended up sharing vinyl turf with one of the biggest guns of ‘80s hardcore. At the same time, though, the inevitable comparisons with Void bring the the Faith’s more run-of-the-mill tendencies to light. Even lyrically, setting Faith’s complaints (“I don’t wanna hear your problems”) against Void’s rage—an anger which can find its expression only within hardcore’s confines (“I just need to decapitate”)--illustrates why this genre’s truest weirdos created its most lasting music.

That said, the demos released here allow Faith to step out of Void’s shadow and prove more compelling recordings of their songs from the split. A crunchier guitar tone drives the band harder, and Alec MacKaye’s vocals sound less practice, to excellent effect. “You’re X’ed” and “In Control” are far from wussy on the split, but MacKaye’s throat-tearing performances on the demos put them to shame, particularly a few moments when he gets out of sync with the rest of the band because, seemingly, he’s too furious to sing in time. Faith fans often cite their slower, darker songs as setting them apart from other DC band and “Confusion” provides evidence for that claim, with reverb dialed way too high on MacKaye’s vocals as he moves from calmly menacing to crazed and back.

This new CD also includes the Faith’s more melodic 12”, Subject To Change, recorded a year and a half after the demo, which demonstrates DC hardcore’s shift away from unmitigated fury. By that time, the band had added a second guitarist, Eddie Janney, to complement Michael Hampton. Here, MacKaye occasionally kind of sings and the lyrics that had always tended towards the personal-rather-than-political veered even more in that direction (“it’s definite but you can’t define it/the feeling’s real but it’s untitled”). This style saw its fulfillment in Embrace, the band Hampton, drummer Ivor Hanson, and bassist Chris Bald played in with elder MacKaye brother Ian, as well as in Janney’s subsequent band, Rites of Spring. The uninitiated should seek out those records; the uninitiated have already heard and formed judgments on this 12”.

That’s kind of the problem with the Faith. To the extent that they’ve been ripped off—which they certainly were, given their important historical position--any imitation could potentially sound just as good, if not better, than their hardcore material, and their more (ahem) melodic material fomented better versions of itself. Probably they were, and continue to be, great guys, they made an excellent record, every hardcore fan likely wishes they could have seen them, but please reshelve your Faith/Void splits in their proper place, under “V.”

By Talya Cooper

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