The members of Les Savy Fav have spent their career stumbling along the line between “art rock” and party rock. I quote the term “art rock” there because I’m a little vague on what it is, and I’m not sure it has existed since, say, Daydream Nation, or, for that matter, outside of music criticism. Nevertheless, it’s a term Les Savy Fav has been crowned with, so it’s worth examining. Is it because the members went to RISD? Or could it be singer Tim Harrington’s sometimes obtuse lyrics? The band’s inventive guitar tones? Les Savy Fav never struck me as avant-garde, post-modern, or a band to be burdened with any of those loathsome terms. Post-punk, though, seems fitting. In fact, I think it’s arguable that Les Savy Fav is one of the definitive post-punk bands of late.
Oh, right, the seven-inch project. The band’s previous full-length was a compilation of nine seven-inch records that were sporadically released between 1995 and 2004. Each seven-inch was just a slice of that record, and Inches was the whole pie. Art-y, I guess. Other than Inches, which has served as the band’s definitive release, it’s been six long years since we’ve seen a Les Savy Fav record. The solid Go Forth was quietly released in 2001, and many of that album’s tracks, particularly “Tragic Monsters” and “Disco Drive,” became staples of the band’s sweaty, enigmatic live sets. Incessant touring has garnered a reputation as a not-to-be-missed live act, and now, finally, after new songs began creeping into Les Savy Fav sets, do we have a new record.
“The Equestrian,” the opener from Let’s Stay Friends (L.S.F., get it?), wastes no time grinding into gear, with Harrington’s screams kicking in after about five seconds. But noisy mayhem isn’t all that’s on the table here. “Pots & Pans” follows, a rather simple slow-builder that’s contrast to the opener sets a tone for the record, one where the band spreads past its post-punk niche. Most notably is how these songs manage to seem loose, fun and deliberate all at once.
The musicians do segue back into their familiar party-rock tone in the album’s mid-section, with tracks like “The Year Before the Year 2000” (“1999!/1999’s all right!”) and “Patty Lee,” where playful guitar noodles dance with Harrington falling in out of falsetto — this could be, and may be, a great single. But soon subtle mood shifts sneak in. The reverb-y, dissonant “Brace Yourself” works as a fine centerpiece, and “Comes and Goes” has Harrington joined in perfect contrast by Fiery Furnaces’ Eleanor Friedberger for a gently noisy duet.
In addition to Friedberger’s vocals, a slew of guests play all over Let’s Stay Friends: all of Enon, Emily Haines, Nicholas Thorburn from Islands, the list goes on. Clearly Les Savy Fav is a favorite of the indie scene, and the members have cherry-picked some great musicians to fill out and enhance their sound while perfecting their expansion into new territory. And maybe Let’s Stay Friends will give them more of the credit they deserve. But only one descriptor is really necessary these days: one of New York City’s best bands.