- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2004

Les Savy Fav has been together for nine years, but its latest album, in some respects, nearly predates the band.

“It started before we even recorded a note together,” says bassist Syd Butler, speaking by phone from Martha’s Vineyard.

The band formed while Mr. Butler and three fellow musicians were students at the Rhode Island School of Design. Their idea was this: to record nine singles, release them on vinyl and make each record cover one part of a giant puzzle. When all nine covers are put together, they form one image.

Now, nearly a decade after they formed the band, they finally finished all of the singles and have released them as one album, called “Inches.”

The album is a perfect way to get to know Les Savy Fav before checking out the group’s show tonight at the Black Cat.

Mr. Butler says he’s happy to have finally finished the project.

“I’m actually really glad that we did it instead of recording new material,” he says. “I think it’s really interesting to hear it as a whole piece.”

Over the years, many of the vinyl singles have become collector’s items. Each one was released through a different record label, and each single had a limited release.

One seller at the online auction site Ebay recently put a starting bid of $39.99 on the single “Our Coastal Hymn,” which was released in 1998. Interested buyers could purchase it outright for $99.99 — pretty expensive for two songs.

“Inches” presents the songs in reverse chronological order, which gives listeners an interesting insight into how the band’s sound evolved.

“Having the whole history there, it’s like plot points. You can connect the dots,” Mr. Butler says. “I’m pretty proud of the whole thing.”

When Mr. Butler and his bandmates — lead singer Tim Harrington, guitarist Seth Jabour and a drummer who has since been replaced by Harrison Haynes — started playing together in 1995, their punk influences were strong. The group’s 1999 debut, “3/5,” starts with a spoken-word track in French, and while Mr. Harrington’s singing-shouting style was already in place, the group’s sound still needed some tinkering.

“We first approached music in a very linear way,” Mr. Butler says. “It was a different way of writing.”

Today, instead of coming up with verse-chorus songs as it once did, the band records what are essentially jam sessions together and then goes back to clean them up in the studio.

The result is danceable punk that rides along on snazzy guitar riffs and is held down admirably by Mr. Butler’s bass and Mr. Haynes’ percussion.

“We just go in and make a lot of noise, pretty much,” he says. “We didn’t want to confine ourselves with structure.”

This approach has paid off quite well and has gained the band a growing fan base over the past few years. This all comes together in the first song from “Inches,” called “Meet Me in the Dollar Bin.”

Recorded in fall 2003, it begins with a synthesized beat before regular drums break in and the guitar begins to buzz like a mosquito drawing closer and closer to the listener’s ear.

The tension builds until Mr. Harrington sing-shouts the opening short-sentence verses: “Dead tired/Bone dry/Admired/’Til I can’t make with the batteries.” The somewhat surreal lyrics are nothing compared with “Reformat,” a spoken-word piece about a dramatic incident aboard a submarine.

In early copies of “Inches,” a DVD is included that features videos for many of the songs and a track-by-track commentary by the band.

The DVD also includes live footage of the band, which goes a long way toward explaining why Les Savy Fav’s shows have become so popular. Mr. Harrington doesn’t look like typical lead-singer material, but his energy is infectious as he draws the band and the audience into a frenzy.

On its current tour, Les Savy Fav joins Detachment Kit and Smoke and Smoke, two labelmates at Frenchkiss Records. It will be the first time Mr. Butler gets to see Smoke and Smoke play live, something he says he’s looking forward to.

After that, the group plans to return to the studio later this month before touring Australia in the fall.

And now that “Inches” is done, Les Savy Fav is ready for the next chapter.

“We’ll see what happens,” Mr. Butler says.

• • •

Tommy Keene was born in Bethesda, Md., but his musical career, more than two decades long, has taken him far from home.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of his six-song album “Places That Are Gone,” which first gained him critical notice for his melodic, sometimes melancholic pop rock. It helped land him a major-label album deal and cemented a fan base, even if the “next big thing” predictions didn’t quite turn out to be true.

Still, Mr. Keene has persevered, and his fans have been all the luckier for it. His latest album, “Drowning,” features 20 rare tracks, including original demos, that show off his range as a performer and songwriter.

For those unaware of the homegrown talent, it’s worth checking him out when he opens for Guided By Voices on Saturday at the 9:30 Club.

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