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Cornfed Keyboards

America is bullish on the Faint. But can the band pick stocks as well as it spots trends?

In 1994, four young boys from corn country -- Omaha, Nebraska, to be exact -- decided to start a band called the Faint. Like most bands, their building blocks were a couple of guitars, a bass and a drum kit. They performed in coffee shops, basements and bars while playing, according to their press kit, "a mix of a bunch of different styles of indie rock." This indie mix got them gigging out of town where they were billed with like-minded bands each night.

The guys soon grew unsatisfied with their lot in life -- which consisted at that time of merely adding to an already huge pile of steaming indie-rock monotony.

"We recognized that the audience saw us the same way we were seeing these bands," says singer Todd Baechle. "You know, four or five dudes with guitars standing still for 45 minutes. We would watch the show and think, 'I don't like the guitar style that guy's playing,' and then think, 'You know, I don't like my guitar style much either.' That's when we decided that keyboards had to be the answer."

How could the Faint's Kerry-sized flip-flop pay off so 
handsomely?
How could the Faint's Kerry-sized flip-flop pay off so handsomely?

In a Willy Wonka-esque moment of clarity, the Faint decided to strike that, reverse it, hopping genres and turning their sap-drenched emo-pop into everlasting, gobstopping electro-dance.

The gamble has paid off. Armed with said keyboards, a spectacular light show, a boatload of Cure and Depeche Mode records and oversexed lyrics, they've burst out of the indie bubble and helped usher in the current dance-infused party wave we all find ourselves wading in.

Their newest effort, Wet from Birth, is the band's most richly dense, best-written record to date. Although elements of digital dance remain, the album sees our favorite corn-shuckers taking a decidedly more aggressive, J.T. Leroy-inspired "rock" turn. It's more macabre than their last disc, which paradoxically was titled Danse Macabre, and less trapped by genre worship than Blank Wave Arcade, their first keyboard-heavy album.

It's important to note the band had a hot nut for dance music nearly half a decade before the country caught on. Baechle, for one, is eager to talk down the Faint's influence on the current dance movement. "Music works in cycles. The market becomes bored with whatever it is currently oversaturated with and moves on. I think dance music would have become popular at some point anyway. People just like to feel good."

Still, it's impressive that the Faint was able to stick a wet finger in the Nebraska wind and decide that synth dance was what the market would be thirsty for next. How could they have made such a Kerry-size musical flip-flop and been so dead-on? Was it luck? An act of God? Or does the Faint, in fact, take turns with fellow Omaha native and billionaire investor Warren Buffett on his legendary crystal ball?

I thought I would put that notion to the test and ask Baechle for a few stock tips. After all, if you got someone on the horn with a pipeline to the Almighty, a clairvoyant third eye, or I've-got-a-Golden Ticket-type luck, you too would feel like it was a waste of time to ask about the chord progressions on his band's new album. Invest wisely.

STARBUCKS

The stock has risen 47 percent over the last year. Analysts expect the trend to continue as Starbucks opens stores internationally and franchises out into other markets such as ice cream, coffee makers and music.

But don't believe the hype. Baechle has grave misgivings about the stock. "I don't buy Starbucks. I do like the way it tastes, but I try to buy at mom-and-pop coffee shops instead."

Buy, sell or trade?

"Geez, I don't know. I don't know anything about this. I hope it goes down."

Faint financial advice: Stay away from this one.

GENERAL MOTORS

Always a fave, this blue-chipper is expected to go up thanks to Red State-type "America First" fervor.

Baechle, however, is less than helpful: "I don't know a thing about cars. The only cars I've ever owned are all under $500."

Buy, sell or trade?

"I really have no clue about this one."

Faint financial advice: Mixed signals.

HEWLETT-PACKARD

Technology stocks are a risky bet -- on the digital front, the market is always volatile. According to analysts, Hewlett has done a more-than-competent job at keeping up with consumer demand for new technologies.

Baechle time: "We use Apple."

Buy, sell or trade?

"Buy Apple. We're very pleased with their products."

Faint financial advice: Buy Apple, not Hewlett-Packard.

KRISPY KREME DOUGHNUTS

Once a blue-chip, this stock has been performing poorly during the past year. Atkins, along with other low-carb trend eating, has cut deeply into KKD. In fact, it's down a full 70 percent from this time last year.

Buy, sell or trade?

Baechle sees the downward trend continuing. "I chose Winchell's."

Faint financial advice: Move to the Midwest and eat at the Home of the Warm 'n Fresh Donut.

And with that, Baechle had to go about other business. I wasn't able to ask him for his 2005 Super Bowl pick.

 
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