Friday, October 24, 2008

Les Savy Fav. Go Forth (French Kiss, 2001)

"Apocalypse can go down easy/ You gotta know it's an acquired taste."

I haven't heard a whole lot of Les Savy Fav; Go Forth is the only record I own, and I didn't get it too long ago. So I'm no authority on this Brooklyn post-punk outfit. I will say this, though: I
am an authority on a lot of DC post-punk outfits, and Les Savy Fav reminds me of a bunch of them. The sharp-edged guitars, all elbows and knees; the pulsing bass lines pointing the melodies along the way; and the bruising heavyweight drums laying down complex, articulated rhythms that walk the line between danceable and threatening.

Essentially, these guys trace a parallel path as Fugazi, the Dismemberment Plan, Faraquet, Smart Went Crazy, and, especially, Q and Not U. And that's a pretty great path, 'cuz DC post-punk is one of my favorite styles, exciting and paranoid and smart and dangerous. Les Savy Fav are clearly influenced by one of DC's signature sounds, and they could be influenced by a lot worse.

Go Forth comes off the blocks in a dead sprint with "Tragic Monsters," featuring an aggressively hip-shaking beat, ricocheting guitar lines, and a sing-song vocal lead from unhinged frontman Tim Harrington. "What we don't know," he chants, "can't hurt us yet," in what sounds like a deranged bit of wishful thinking. Turns out we're usually hurt by what we don't know. "Reprobate Resume" pummels and pounds as sheets of raygun guitar reverberate and radiate. "The devil goes out dancing/ On the angel's perceived needs," Harrington squawks, "Please go easy on me," sounding not unlike prog-punkers At the Drive-In before it segues into "Crawling Can be Beautiful" with a Soft Cell electronic thump, a darkly disco-fied track that bursts into a major key anthem at the 1:41 mark, ringing notes breaking through the gloom like sun through smog.

The opening notes of "Daily Dares" are a plaintive searchlight, scanning the darkness for the rhythm section; when it finally arrives at the 2:17 mark, it comes rushing out of the darkness with balaclavas and billyclubs, poised to do some damage. It's a nerve-racking exercise in tension built and released.

"One to Three" grinds forward like gears on a factory floor, interlocking machine-like drums and clockwork guitars underpinning a tired-sounding Harrington as he observes, "This racket takes it's toll/ My scams are smooth and cold/ I'm bathing in a fountain/ And I'm not getting old," even as he ages in front of our ears. "Pills" starts off on pins and needles, a prickly handful of broken-glass notes stabbing through the speakers before the rest of the band catches up to lay down a brittle, hopped-up groove to carry the song through.

"Adopduction" is my favorite track on the album, as much for the slashing hooks and monster drums as for the priceless lyrics. ""I dreamed I was kidnapped/ By a guy with a mustache/ And a chick with an eyepatch," the story begins, "who thought they could trade me back/ For some quick cash/ But when they relayed the bargain/ My family said/ 'We'll pay half that.'" It's a great example of Harrington's skewed humor, tied to a buoyant and bouncy arrangement.

So I'll probably listen to some more Les Savy Fav, if only because they sound like some of the best music my city has ever produced. The District has a lot to answer for, certainly, and can be a hard place to live at times. But it's been the incubation chamber for a lot of awesome musical ideas, rhythm-heavy, dub-inflected post-punk among them. It's nice to see the influences reach as far as Brooklyn.