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<3>When Fugazi appeared at Fort Reno in the summer of 1997, the band played a song called “Target,” which includes singer-guitarist Guy Picciotto’s observation, “I hate the sound of guitars.” It’s a sentiment that was common then, back in the era of grunge fatigue, but it wasn’t one shared by Faraquet. The local post-punk trio splintered off from the arty indie-pop outfit Smart Went Crazy that summer. While fellow travelers were courting cellists, thinking up DJ names, and eBaying Kraftwerk LPs, Faraquet flirted with the idea of adding yet another guitar to its knotty and already guitar-heavy sound. I know this because I was one of the guitarists—perhaps the only one—who auditioned for the slot in 1998. The tryout is worth mentioning not only in the interest of full disclosure, but also because it offered some insight into a band that even now, years after its breakup in 2001, remains difficult to pigeonhole.
Of course they could play in odd time signatures. And, yes, they were, at times, willfully obtuse. But at the heart of every Faraquet song is an actual song. The first time I saw the band perform Anthology’s “Call It Sane,” which was recorded in 1998 and originally appeared on a 1999 seven-inch, This Time Around, I was taken with the gamelan-like riff that Ocampo plays during the intro, and the complex figures that he pulls out of the chord changes. When I hear it now, I’m struck by its emotional resonance. The mid-tempo song is shot through with a sense of melancholy that pervades even the showiest of instrumental fillips. Ignore for a moment the fleet-fingered fretwork and what you’re left with is a series of jazz-tinged melodies, all leading to a chorus that is as affecting as it is difficult to play.
Or at least I presume it’s difficult to play. Faraquet never added a second guitarist. And, in a way, I was glad that Ocampo never returned my calls. I had already seen the band enough to be a fan and to know that, even before the first seven-inch came out in the spring of 1998, the power trio format was all they would ever need. What’s the point of adding a second guitarist when you’ve got a frontman who can outplay everyone in town? And he could sing, too. Actually, as much as I admire Ocampo’s approach to the guitar—he once told me he thought in terms of the saxophone when he was writing melodies—the band’s instrumentals are less memorable than the songs on which he steps up to the mike.
Though Ocampo tends toward punk’s short-sharp-shock style of lyric composition, his vocals are effusive in a way that few peers can match. You might even call it blue-eyed soul. On Anthology’s “Rex”—which was recorded in 1998 and originally appeared on a 1999 split EP with Akarso—Ocampo’s syllable-stretching vocal line is perfectly suited to the song’s heart-on-sleeve subject matter. “Past 4 a.m./Meet my eyes/If only now,” he sings. Ocampo’s vocal betrays a hint of alt-country twang, which is just the sort of thing you’d expect from a guy singing the line, “I’m drunk again.” The performance is unguarded in a way that few in math-, punk-, or indie-rock could match. It’s not emo. It’s more like a classic pop vocal performance. In a different context—say, one in which the arrangement was straightforward or even boring—Ocampo might be seen for what he is: a guy who doesn’t need white-hot instrumental chops to carry a song.
This became more obvious on the band’s debut full-length, 2000’s The View From This Tower. The album contains just one instrumental, “The Missing Piece,” and that song bears none of the abstractness of the vocal-free tracks on Anthology—“Yo Yo,” “Parakeet,” and a previously unreleased hidden track—all of which twist and wind their way through unpredictable arrangements. The band never lost its taste for progressive excursions, but on Tower, all of that takes a back seat to its more tuneful tendencies. The first time I saw Faraquet perform Tower’s “Study Complacency” I thought the strummy and relatively straightforward track was meant to pad out an album I knew they were writing at the time. Now, the song, which foregrounds pop and pushes prog into the background like a redheaded stepchild, strikes me as the best, most representative thing the band ever recorded.
And then, not long after the song’s release, the band was done. I probably knew this before most people, because I was playing music with Molter—not to mention watching the occasional classic-rock video with Boswell—around the same time. The former members seemed to harbor little animosity over the breakup, so it was hardly a surprise when Molter and Ocampo formed the power trio Medications in 2003—or when Faraquet announced that it would play some shows later this year. Plenty of bands that either formed in, or were strongly identified with, the ’90s are doing much the same thing. As the recent reunion of the Feelies has shown, a well-timed re-appearance can give a group the victory lap it deserves—or even a new lease on life. If the latter turns out to be true, then Anthology is a much-needed prelude, a reminder that, no matter how you feel about the sound of guitars, Faraquet built its music to last.