Listening to “Bad Star,” the fifth song on the new Faces on Film album, you’ll be tempted to avert your eyes, maybe feel a little guilty: Should I be hearing this? It’s so private, so deeply felt, that it imparts the sensation of eavesdropping on someone’s conversation on the train. You shouldn’t lean in for more, but you do. You can’t help it.
“Bad Star” sounds like one side of an intense conversation between Mike Fiore, the mastermind behind the Boston-based band, and presumably a loved one, perhaps a romantic interest.
You said I wasn’t looking too well
That night I wasn’t myself
Oh, I was just saying my lines
I was just part of the shine
That bare-bones intimacy and clarity are at the heart of “Elite Lines,” which Fiore will self-release on March 25. It’s Faces on Film’s third album since debuting in 2008 and marks a major leap forward for Fiore as songwriter unafraid to let the listener in.
“I’m hoping that maybe some of the imagery is more direct, that the characters are easier to identify,” Fiore says. “And I think I’m doing a better job as a writer that when I say ‘me’ in a song, I’m actually talking about myself.”
His first two albums (2008’s “The Troubles” and 2011’s “Some Weather”) were heard in a haze. Watercolor vocals soaked in reverb told stories shrouded in mystery but full of emotion. You couldn’t always figure out what he meant, but his conviction and mystique drew you in. Mood often trumped hard meaning, and Fiore liked it that way.
“Elite Lines,” which Fiore recorded both at home and at Q Division Studios in Somerville, Mass., with engineer-producer Rafi Sofer, lifts the veil a bit, giving you a clearer idea of where Fiore is coming from. Nothing is too obvious, of course, nor is it too opaque, either.
Asked about touchstones for this new record, he sends an email with links to 10 songs that he kept in heavy rotation while making it. They’re all over the map, from Harry Nilsson’s majestic version of “Many Rivers to Cross” to the rumbling bass and R&B beat of Frank Ocean’s “Swim Good” to the cosmic country of Neil Young’s “I Believe in You.”
“Elite Lines” casts a similarly wide net, revealing new layers and shades of Fiore. A bluesy swagger underpins the stomp and sway of “Rake the Dust,” while “Heartspeed” pulses with an R&B sensuality that belies the danger lurking beneath those thick bass lines.
If it weren’t anchored by those clanging drums, “Daytime Nowhere” would likely drift into the cosmos to mingle alongside spectral songs by Cocteau Twins or Beach House. Then there’s “Percy,” which opens the album on a primal note: Fiore’s voice is lithe and nearly vaporous as it hovers over the tribal percussion and a psychedelic interlude that probably sounds even better after a hit of acid.
The album takes its name from a wordless but wondrous guitar piece that lasts just over a minute but lingers with its acoustic finger-picking that’s, somehow, both barbed and beautiful.
The song came to Fiore in a dream, prompting him to get out of bed and record it in the middle of the night on his phone before reshaping it later in the studio. That moment neatly sums up what Fiore was trying to accomplish on “Elite Lines.”
“When that happens, when you’ve got something good,” he says, “you gotta hold up your end of the bargain and go wake up and at least capture it."
Faces on Film’s tracks