Les Savy Fav are one of Brooklyn’s best secrets. They don’t have a deal with Universal though, and you won’t see them on MTV. Yes, they’re “indie” in that old school way: guitarist Syd Butler actually runs his own label, Frenchkiss records, which releases most of the group’s material.
When the Providence, Rhode Island transplants landed in Williamsburg in ‘96, the electroclash/dancepunk revival was still a few years off, and Les Savy Fav was churning out angular, melodic post-punk that was somewhere between Modest Mouse and Fugazi. In ‘01, on the heels of the discopunk revival, they released Go Forth, a kind of no wave tribute riddled with Tim Harrington’s apocalyptic parables, guitarist Seth Jabour’s soaring, discordant melodies, and Harrison Hayne’s electrified beats.
Inches is a collection of the band’s singles, starting with its post-Go Forth recordings (“Meet Me in the Dollar Bin”, “Hold on to Your Genre”, “We’ll Make a Lover of You, and “Fading Vibes”, all of which were recorded last fall), progressing backward, and eventually degenerating into feral blasts of distorted guitar, Harrington’s screeching wails and ex-drummer Pat Mahoney’s sliced-up drum patterns, with the band’s first recorded track “Rodeo”. The effect is staggering. The recent material has more in common with Interpol’s pleasant groveling than “the fucking punk rock” claimed in the band’s moniker.
The transition from emotionally charged, distortion-addled rock to sleek electro pop isn’t all bad, and Les Savy Fav’s sound is hardly one-dimensional. First of all, Tim Harrington still loves to flex his adolescent throat stabs (don’t forget to check out the live videos on the bonus DVD—it’s got some of Harrington’s best “I’m a crazy fat bearded bald guy” routines). Secondly, tracks like “Sweat Descends”, which is equal part dub and metal guitar, and equal part discopunk, or “Hello Halo, Goodbye Glands”, which sounds like drugged-out surf rock, are far from the gimmicky anthems one might expect these days from Brooklyn.
Les Savy Fav’s evolution seems analogous to Greg Dulli’s transition from the Afghan Whigs to the Twilight Singers. The former and the latter are equally powerful within their own context. The difference, of course, is that Dulli started a new project while Les Savy Fav has plugged away at the same collective thought process. Personally, Les Savy Fav’s story is a lot more impressive. For any group to progress and change the way that, say, Radiohead has, is pretty damn inspiring. It shows commitment, and it shows vision.
And if there’s one thing Inches wants to suggest, it’s vision. Here’s a band that spent a decade compiling a concept singles record—a band that’s dabbled in “the Brooklyn Sound”, but maintained its own identity. The lyrics for “Hold on to Your Genre” might as well be directed at any of the thousand “The” bands popping up on the mainstream radar (“Are you sick of being pretty? Are you sick of being cool? Are you alive beneath your makeup? Or just an undead ghoul?”).
But for all Les Savy Fav’s musical evolution, and all their high falutin’ art rock pretension, when it comes down to it, they’re still a rock band. Tim Harrington still flails around stage like an overweight Iggy Pop, and the band can still whip up a dose of raw rock and roll. Les Savy Fav are in it for the long haul; Inches is how they got here.