Friends in High and Low Places
Six years is a long time for any band to wait between releases in todayâ€šÃ„Ã´s indiescape. Between 2001â€šÃ„Ã´s Go Forth and its follow-up Letâ€šÃ„Ã´s Stay Friends, fans couldnâ€šÃ„Ã´t be blamed for fearing that theyâ€šÃ„Ã´d lost Les Savy Fav forever. The wait was punctuated by the career-spanning singles compilation, Inches, in 2004; however, Friends was necessary in reviving the Les Savy Fav name. To further spotlight their resurgence, they followed up mere months later with After the Balls Drop, a hasty and arguably unnecessary reminder that the band wasnâ€šÃ„Ã´t going anywhere.Friends is a triumphant return to a form that was never lost, pushing their sound to its next logical step. Though front man Tim Harrington blamed the albumâ€šÃ„Ã´s long gestation on writerâ€šÃ„Ã´s block, thereâ€šÃ„Ã´s no sign of it here. He makes his bandâ€šÃ„Ã´s intentions known right away on opener â€šÃ„ÃºPots and Pans:â€šÃ„Ã¹ â€šÃ„ÃºLetâ€šÃ„Ã´s tear this whole place down and build it up again/ This bandâ€šÃ„Ã´s a beating heart and nowhere near its end.â€šÃ„Ã¹
ame Indeed, the groupâ€šÃ„Ã´s continued vitality is apparent in every song, almost each of which could easily stand up against any of their past peaks. Tracks like frantic rocker â€šÃ„ÃºThe Equestrian,â€šÃ„Ã¹ the gliding â€šÃ„ÃºWhat Would Wolves Do?â€šÃ„Ã¹ and single â€šÃ„ÃºPatty Leeâ€šÃ„Ã¹ are kinetic, catchy, and executed with amazing restraint and precision. Ten seconds into the opening rift of the latter track is all it takes to cure six years worth of entropy.
ame In another shrewd move, evocative of the album title, the group came back to the party with their equally cool friends in top form. The guest list on Friends includes Metricâ€šÃ„Ã´s Emily Haines, the Unicornsâ€šÃ„Ã´ Nick Thorburn, and Saturday Night Liveâ€šÃ„Ã´s Fred Armisen, among others. The best of these collaborations is the vocal turn by Enonâ€šÃ„Ã´s Toko Yasuda on the slinky â€šÃ„ÃºKiss Kiss is Getting Old.â€šÃ„Ã¹ Her verses drip with seductive menace that segues via serpentine guitars into Harringtonâ€šÃ„Ã´s eruptive chorus. Itâ€šÃ„Ã´s enough to make one forgive â€šÃ„ÃºComes and Goes,â€šÃ„Ã¹ a bland duet between Harrington and Fiery Furnacesâ€šÃ„Ã´ Eleanor Friedburger.
Taking the adage of â€šÃ„Ã²absence makes the heart grow fonderâ€šÃ„Ã´ into consideration, Les Savy Fav could just as easily have released Letâ€šÃ„Ã´s Stay Friends in 2002, and it would still have proven just as viable, as well stood proudly as the bandâ€šÃ„Ã´s best effort yet.
ame Sadly, they come close to wasting a fair amount of the good faith they restored on their subsequent live album. Whereas Friends felt natural and effortless, After the Balls Drop feels forced and contrived; for example, Tim Harrington has to reassure his audience one song into the performance that â€šÃ„Ãºweâ€šÃ„Ã´re really into this tonight.â€šÃ„Ã¹
Ironically, most of the live incarnations of their new songs sound stifled, as if theyâ€šÃ„Ã´re holding back. Tracks like the aforementioned â€šÃ„ÃºWolvesâ€šÃ„Ã¹ (here hobbled by insincere howling at the end) and â€šÃ„ÃºPatty Leeâ€šÃ„Ã¹ no longer glide so much as plod. Seth Jabourâ€šÃ„Ã´s normally commanding guitar work merely sounds like a muted afterthought. Not even older favorites like â€šÃ„ÃºThe Sweat Descendsâ€šÃ„Ã¹ and â€šÃ„ÃºWeâ€šÃ„Ã´ll Make a Lover of Youâ€šÃ„Ã¹ pack the same punch as on the album. Covers of Pixiesâ€šÃ„Ã´ â€šÃ„ÃºDebaserâ€šÃ„Ã¹ and Nirvanaâ€šÃ„Ã´s â€šÃ„ÃºSliverâ€šÃ„Ã¹ sound perfect in theory, but offer no additional color or variety to the set.
The truth is that itâ€šÃ„Ã´s Harringtonâ€šÃ„Ã´s stage antics that make a Les Savy Fav performance truly memorable. The costume changes, strip-downs, and physical interactions with the front row help elevate the bandâ€šÃ„Ã´s performances into something more special even on an off night. Deprived of that extra intimacy on record, such an off night becomes more painfully obvious and leads more cynical listeners to cry â€šÃ„Ãºstop-gap.â€šÃ„Ã¹
But like any good friend, one has to take the bad with the good and forgive mistakes. Balls may have been a blatant effort on Les Savy Favâ€šÃ„Ã´s part to stay on peopleâ€šÃ„Ã´s minds, but the fact that fans welcomed them back with open arms after such a long wait should be evidence enough that they were remembered. As long as they continue to release albums as consistently rewarding as Letâ€šÃ„Ã´s Stay Friends, they always will be.