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Les Savy Fav - Inches

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Artist: Les Savy Fav

Album: Inches

Label: French Kiss

Review date: Jun. 20, 2004

Inches is not for everyone. It's dizzying, smirking, noisy and exhausting, and there's hardly enough dynamic variety to endear it to the fainthearted. Moreover, its very being is somewhat presumptuous: it was conceived in 1996 as a collection of nine 7" singles to be released individually, each of which would ultimately be one piece in a large puzzle designed to gratify extreme fans and extremely patient aesthetes. And yet none of this really matters when listening to it—the the puzzle idea turned out to be pretty cool (to wit), and, more importantly, the record is fantastic.

Over eighteen tracks (and seven years), Les Savy Fav conduct an exercise in raucous yet precise post-punk, the sort to fasten empirical meaning to throwaway adjectives like "angular" and "jaunty." But more admirable than the band's technical precision is their gleeful abandon. Inches almost never feels burdened by its tautness; on the contrary, its often unremarkable melodies are validated by it. This is also thanks to Tim Harrington's lyrics, which maintain a wry self-awareness throughout (as the titles "Meet Me in the Dollar Bin" and "Hold On To Your Genre" suggest), the slight instrumental intricacies hidden at any given deceptively simple moment, and the band's sheer enthusiasm in shifting among any of the songs' many meters. Whatever the reason, Les Savy Fav manage to eke a lot of fun out of the sorts of songs in which a sort of joyless technicality is more common.

The album proceeds in reverse chronological order, with six tracks from 2004 all the way through two from 1997. It seems logical at first that the latest tracks should be the most sophisticated, given the crude Pixies rip-off quality of 1997's "Blackouts On Thursday," but its b-side "Rodeo" suggests the contrary. Rather, the later songs (the first eight on Inches were released after 2001's Go Forth) seem somehow more intelligent because they escape the dull rigor that marks many other post-punk outfits. Yes, it's all discordant guitars and pseudo-danceable rhythm here, but there's a certain self-effacing humor to Les Savy Fav's brand of it that makes it generally winning and occasionally sexy.

The compilation's earlier songs are more often afflicted with the problems the later ones cleverly dodge: with their electro leanings and claustrophobic lyrics, for instance, "No Sleeves" and "Reprobates Resume" more readily recall the disjunctive dystopia of The Faint and Milemarker than the whimsy of the Dismemberment Plan. (The track that follows, a six-minute spoken word dramatization of "Reformat," complete with naval tragedy and public guillotining, is frankly just weird.) Still, their generic tendencies feel quite pardonable in the midst of so many other solidly pleasurable tracks. By itself a song like "Our Coastal Hymn" might sound like a bland summary of D.C.'s post-hardcore history, but by preemptively supporting it with later and sleeker tracks, Inches functions in the best way a retrospective of its kind can: the more primitive songs don't seem like missteps so much as enlightening diagrams of how the band arrived at such convincing current ones.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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