Les Savy Fav
Let's Stay Friends
(French Kiss; 2007)
By Mark Abraham | 24 September 2007
Who wrote the wiki on Les Savy Fav? The band plays “idiosyncratic rock”? Fuck no—this band plays the kind of rock that makes fabrics and forests spontaneously combust. This band hasn’t made a serious misstep in their career, ‘cept maybe that one time they appeared on a split with the Mars Volta, and they burned that shit up too. This band also hasn’t made a bona fide full length studio album since 2001’s Go Forth. Their last release was Inches, a career-spanning 2004 collection of singles, which gave the band a far more coherent legacy then their four albums in 12 years might suggest. Post-punk takes years to digest, swirl around, and then fizz into the atmosphere like the kind of sonic vapor Let’s Stay Friends spews forth. This new album isn’t a comeback; it’s a document that overturns the traditional logic that frames Les Savy Fav’s entire career around their mind-blowing 2000 EP Rome (Written Upside Down). This is not a band that develops their sound; this is a band that redesigns it from the inside, a trickster that echoes the obvious pose vocalist Tim Harrington adopts; a wolf raised by sheep disguised in a different wolf’s clothing.
Hyperbole? Perhaps, but Les Savy Fav, maybe more than any other band, deserve it. And even if a new Les Savy Fav record will necessarily split the difference between comfort food and quantum physics in making pretty much all music okay again, this is a band that continually drops science on top of its sheer consistency, bucking trends at the same time that it anticipates them, proving that allegiance to a sound or scene ain’t imbued with the same brash power Les Savy Fav wields. They long ago positioned themselves as the intersection of all late ‘70s and early ’80s post-punk in one grinning, fists up package. What made it work, though, was their ability to perform as this schizophrenic doppelganger revivalist and still come out the other end looking like a fully formed and exciting individual.
It might seem easy to pin that on Harrington, a vocalist who himself looks more Will Oldham than Ari Up or Mark Stewart, as he deconstructs the very concept of punk attitude and post-punk revisioned masculinity—as often as you might compare these guys to the Gang of Four, the Marxist sexism isn’t along for the ride ‘cause Harrington’s sexuality is always about unqualified or gendered sex—with his endless array of silly and sublime stage maneuvers; that’s cheating, because it assumes Harrington, well, bad example, but Wes Borland, functioning on an entirely different level than his parent entity. And, please don’t get me wrong: Harrington might just be the most charismatic performer playing today, and even more awesome is that he’s found himself there by working his carefully constructed anti-charisma for over a decade. However, anybody who doesn’t see why and how the band is totally in on the joke isn’t listening hard enough; it’s the punch line that makes their music so complex, and turns every guitar lick or drum fill into another gesture in an array of sonic poses and emotions from here to London Calling’s event horizon.
The break was sad, but it worked: Let’s Stay Friends is the most ambitious abuse of genre the band’s yet laid, like somehow when the indie revolution got gerrymandered Les Savy Fav came out on top. “Slugs in the Shrubs,” for example, blends punk, industrial, disco, and dub in a spurious assault that highlights Seth Jabour’s chameleon guitar tactics as he builds towards a feedback-laden post-rock crescendo before the final volley. “Kiss Kiss is Getting Old” proves that Jabour is on the exact same wavelength as Harrington; his guitar sounds great, sure, but more important is the way the tone moves from serious rawk to place the tongue firmly in cheek, the same flirty fashion as Harrington’s coy tough singer/shy talker persona. And then “Scotchguard the Credit Card” gives bassist Syd Butler room to breath; though Broken Social Scene-style horn flourishes are the most immediately grabbing thing about the song, it’s Butler’s panache on the low end that ties the piece together. Ditto with “The Year Before the Year 2000,” the most straightforward dance punk verse coupled with the most straightforward punk chorus on the album. You can dance or you can jump, and dancing/jumping is basically your choice throughout since drummer Harrison Haynes is his typical self, lots of flash without being flashy, his reserved style the perfect complement to the majority of the tracks at the same time that his ability to unleash works wonders for a song like “Pots & Pans”—which would otherwise be a silly interlude.
“Patty Lee” is the song where all of this most conveniently comes together; it’s a super punchy song, and if every Les Savy Fav song is a genre centrifuge, “Patty Lee” slurs the Les Savy Fav catalogue together, riding Butler’s thundering bass to a gorgeous union of mean blushes and five-fingers-make-a-fist shyness. Album highlights like “What Would Wolves Do?”, “Brace Yourself,” “The Lowest Bitter,” and “Raging in the Plague Age”—all of which sound entirely different, and exactly like Les Savy Fav—spin on a cusp of tension between age, anger, joy, and self-awareness. And it’s meta, yes, and it’s self-referential, yes, and it’s even occasionally pretentious, yes. But here’s what I love about Les Savy Fav most: even as they’re telling you to get down, they’re never telling you to lose yourself in irony or submission. Punk was never about giving up, which is why calling these guys idiosyncratic is a joke. This band is where idiosyncratic goes to fuck itself.