Les Savy Fav - Inches (reissue)

Tim Miller 10/02/2008

Rating: 4/5

Not content with starring in 2007's Best Of lists pretty much everywhere, Les Savy Fav follow up their recent success with a reissue of Inches, the band's interim singles collection that split the six-year gap between their third and fourth albums in 2004. Inches backs up the shortly to be released single 'Patty Lee', taken from aforementioned über successful fourth LP, and, since many may have been uninitiated with Les Savy Fav until last year, provides a useful insight into the band from their pre-Let's Stay Friends days.

Totalling 18 tracks, Inches comprises mainly of standalone songs that have been released as 7” singles (the clue is in the title, yer?), with most songs being rare even to the band's most loyal of fans. That said, loyal fans probably bought this compilation first time around. However, what it does do is highlight a telling trend of spikey punk songwriting often topped with fraught vocals, pitched precariously atop the organised racket that always threatens to tip toward the deranged. It actually does as 'Obsessed with the Excess', an excess of feedback and crashing cymbals playing out the song.

I actually count myself as uninitiated - Let's Stay Friends escaped me last year and the band had yet to register on my radar before that - so it is from a neutral viewpoint that I can at least approach this reissued compilation, and consider unprejudiced its aesthetic merits (rather than make bones about reissuing a singles album which rings absolutely no changes from its previous incarnation a mere three years ago).

Immediately, this collection prompts Les Savy Fav as a striking precursor to the endless stream of soundalike indie-punk bands spawning at present - Pigeon Detectives, Wombats, Enemy et al. Full of breakneck drums with just a hint of that now-obligatory disco edge, and screeching guitar work that seems to pre-empt licks in the Russell Lissack mould, Inches showcases a band whose career to date should be bathed in an aura of originality and genre-busting. For every song that sounds a complete punk entity, a bona fide single, there's another that appears on the verge of breaking down as the offbeat scratchings up and down the frets sail against wandering basslines and a barrage of scattergun drums. It's an impressive balance that exudes real quality and sparkles with innovation.

As an LSF novice, comparisons present themselves quite easily and at times this singles collections seem to update Joy Division's moody career - the sparser and darker arrangement of Hold on to Your Genre, a near-majestic haunting track - while We'll Make a Lover Out of You, One Way Widow and The Sweat Descends with their searing riffs and urgent rhythms shine as beacons to modern day bands on how to do this sort of thing properly. Elsewhere, the occasional glimpse of chaos harks back to the Beastie Boys, for me, as sweaty and shouty offerings of debauched punk goodness.

The five star rating will have to wait, though, because it's not as flawlessly clear cut as the above might suggest. Unusually for a compilation when compared with a normal LP, perhaps, the album dips in quality for a period. The consecutive trio of the rowdy but foggy 'Reprobates Resume', the 4-minute spoken word “dramatic reading” of 'Reformat' followed with a poorly recorded live version of a song with the same title marks the lowest point of the 70-odd minutes, and the final tracks don't seem to recapture the exuberant melody and urgency of the first 10 or 11 songs. The angst and rebellion is still there on 'Bringing Us Down', though at the expense of musical clarity, and 'Blackouts on Thursday' barely raises its head above a three-chord grunge workout. It's left to 'Rodeo' to muster some resistance after this, which it does with a savage two-minute assault that manages to encompass, albeit fleetingly, the same quality of the first two thirds of this compilation.

The reissue of Inches won't surprise anyone already acquainted with Les Savy Fav, and offers not even one new song from the 2004 original, but as a catalogue of the band's decade-long history, it's certainly a collection of fine cuts from a chaotic punk renegade who, truth be told, were probably breaking into their stride before their time. Anyone, like me, coming into the band fresh might well give Les Savy Fav the future opportunity to embrace their new-found popularity and take things further, as this reissue and their critically acclaimed album last year positions them as one of the most important underground bands in the current scene. Inches has been a welcome, if slightly chequered revelation for me, and although it isn't quite a love affair - yet - for now, let's just stay friends.