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Th' Faith Healers, Imaginary Friend

REVIEW: Th Faith Healers, Imaginary Friend (Elektra)
- Wm. Ferguson, Alternative Press, May 1994

When Th Faith Healers came out with their first record, Lido, some of us thought we'd finally received this generation's answer to the Velvet Underground. they seemed to be taking rock back to its primal urge - to just pick up a Telecaster and strum the same chord forever. They played impossibly simple progressions that stuck in your head for days. Like the guitar line of "Satisfaction", the loopy riff of "Don't Jones Me" sure doesn't sound like genius. But whiel it doesn't take a genius to string three notes together, it might take one to know when to leave it alone and start working on a chord for the chorus.

And now comes Imaginary Friend, their major-label follow-up. And Th Faith Healers stick with their formula, putting out another groundbreaking mess of texture and chaos and nervous quietude. Of course, they break the exact same ground they broke with Lido, leading me to believe that Imaginary Friend is the delayed installment of the best double record since London Calling. All of this somewhat removes them fromthe burden of Velvets status. But it does put them in running to be the '90s Ramones. (If the Ramones ever decide to stop being the '90s Ramones.)

It's hard to say whether Th Faith Healers' refusal to shift gears is in fact a refusal or a lack of creative spark. It's easy to say that "Kevin" may be the best song they've ever written, a sinewy mix of acoustic guitar, feedback, and an uncharacteristically pop melody. And "Curly Lips" is a gem the way only Th Faith Healers can forge them - ugly and awkward and really sexy. But by the time we get to the seventh - and final! - song, "Everything All at Once Forever," a 20-minute two-chord drone, you have to wonder. I'm not sure if that Stereolab art-school "it's so boring it's great" vibe gets pulled off. The song does have a few peaks and valleys, but man, that's a long drive. If nothing else, Imaginary Friend should nicely fill out that 120-minute all-Faith Healers tape I've been working on.

REVIEW: Th' Faith Healers, Imaginary Friend (Too Pure)
- Richard Ellenson

Before I had heard the music, I already liked the packaging of this CD. It sports the same 1960's washed-out-colour aesthetics as its predecessor Lido: this time we get cute pictures of little children, but the aesthetics immediately subvert the message of the pictures: they're supposed to signify innocence, but the innocence comes across as an anachronism, a thing of the past. The doll is only an imaginary friend, the harsh truths of reality lie elsewhere. Add to that the yukky beige of the disc container and the CD itself, and you almost have a work of art.

Well no, this is art, because the aforementioned truths are there: they come from the CD player once you pressed the Play button. This album is somewhat more restrained than Lido, but this doesn't mean it's less powerful, quite on the contrary. I don't think the Healers compromised at all; it contains the same anger, the same desperation, the same energy as its predecessor.; the fact that the anger has been restrained only makes it sound more dangerous. This is a record waiting to explode in your face.

The lo-fi production helps immensely, for it adds authenticity: if this were a perfect recording, we wouldn't be inclined to believe a word (or, as in this case, a single emotion) of what they sing about. But this way we do: I don't know if the tracks were recorded live, but I don't think they wasted much time on dubs and mixes; as a result the album sounds above all honest and genuine, and that is an extremely rare virtue.

The album's opener, "Sparklingly Chime", does just that: it sparkles and it chimes and its opening riff slabs you into the face with all its directness. Add to that Roxanne Stephen's powerful vocals; you'll agree that this is a much better expression of anger than Lido's unrestrained scream song "Hippy Hole". The other one barked, this one bites.

Many of the songs on this album live from understatement, but then that was always one of the Healers' strengths. "Heart Fog", "Kevin", "The People" and "Curly Lips" are perfect examples of songs that start out subtly but leave you baffled by all the anger they contain. Especially the first, in form a lament, upon closer inspection reveals to consist of a myriad of emotions, barely suppressed, ready to escape. And "The People" turns from a quiet, melodic chant into a proclamation of the frustration of a generation: "Don't want a conscience, give me a reason." Yes, this has been said before, but coming from this record I am ready to believe it.

And then there's the closing song. Its title, "Everything, All At Once Forever" sounds almost programmatic, given that it lasts no less than 20 (twenty!) minutes and 4 seconds, and all of these 20 minutes are more or less based on one riff and one line of text (okay, so there's a little more text in there, but you don't really understand it). It's a sign of the Healers' ingenuity that this thing (I refuse to call it a "song") is varied enough that it never becomes boring, on the contrary, the more often you hear it, the more you like it, the more interesting it gets, and - incredible! - the more you want it to be longer.

Th' Faith Healers are an extremely gifted band and I'd like to hear more from them; unfortunately they've announced that they don't want to continue. This leaves us with an oeuvre of two brilliant LPs and four EPs and a band that will remain in obscurity, perhaps to be discovered some day by some pop music historian. I just hope they'll be remembered. They should be.

REVIEW: Th' Faith Healers, Imaginary Friend (Elektra Entertainment)
- Alan Rapp

th faith healers manage to integrate sweet, Olympia-style pop with abject anti-music, often within the same song. A sense of urgency is underscored in lead vocalist Roxanne Stephens's alternately winsome and aggressive vocal change-ups. Experimentalism finally gets the upper hand in the last song, "Everything, All at Once Forever": 40 minutes deep, this cut of insinuating guitar chords is abruptly interrupted with twelve minutes of subsequent silence, after which the song is reclaimed. Come to the fountain of sonic healing.

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REVIEW: Th' Faith Healers, Imaginary Friend (Elektra)
- Nitsuh Abebe, All Music Guide

The fact that Th Faith Healers were originally picked up by the spacy English label Too Pure is certainly significant -- their music, while seemingly in line with indie-rock conventions, has so many elements of noise and drone in it that it appears to have crossed over to listeners of more spacy, organ-driven music. Imaginary Friend manages to satisfy all of these different interests, floating back and forth between soupy waves of distorted guitars and clean, ringing, indie-rock tones ("Kevin," "Heart Fog"). The real thrill of the band's songwriting lies in the way surprising pop moments can emerge from the mess of sound -- the chorus of "See-Saw" is an unexpected burst of melody that transcends all of the band's noisier tendencies. Imaginary Friend is arguably Th Faith Healers' defining album, and that makes it well worth a listen; somewhere in between sounding like a Too Pure band, a noise project, a precursor to Snowpony, and the badass cousins of Madder Rose, Th Faith Healers managed to find a unique and compelling style that no other band has truly approached.

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Last modified 5 May 2003