Two weeks ago the Brooklyn punk rock band Les Savy Fav saw their fifth studio album Root For Ruin leak online — more than a month before it was due for release. The band reacted quickly, almost too quickly, as if they were counting on a leak all along. A ragged announcement went up on lessavyfav.com entitled I ‘Stole’ Root For Ruin, where freeloaders were encouraged to donate via Paypal as a kind of moral quid pro quo. The band also launched a Twitter ‘ghost’ account called U_Took_My_Music; anyone who had mentioned the leak on Twitter was presumed guilty, or at least complicit, and the ghost ‘haunted’ (harassed) the culprit until he made monetary reparations. Aside from lampooning their own efforts to do something about the leak, in the end there wasn’t much the band could do. Syd Butler, the band’s bassist and the owner of Frenchkiss Records, who put out all LSF releases, bumped the digital release of Root For Ruin from September 13 to August 3, which was yesterday.
Some version of the Album Leak Song And Dance happens every day. It’s on the musician to be “cool” about it: to pretend like, after so much work and money, the leak’s not that big of a deal. To shrug your shoulders, make the right joke, and at the same time try to say something to the extent of “But OK, guys, you got me but seriously, so…” A James Murphy-like “please don’t share” is preferred over a James Hetfield-like witchhunt for the college students who did — though how amped would you be to find out the old guy from the “Enter Sandman” video just showed up on some kid’s doorstep one morning.
But then a band like Les Savy Fav, whom critics call “art-punk” with zero negative connotation, is expected to have something along the lines of a “creative solution” to the situation. “Art-punks” of course want people not just to “do the right thing” but to tell themselves “I’m doing the right thing,” which is to say they want people to think it’s “cool” or somehow “arty” or even “punk” to “do the right thing,” since everything in this regard lost its meaning outside of quotation marks many years ago.
As for why this particular leak episode depressed me? Five years ago I saw Les Savy Fav play a secret show at Cake Shop, and at one point frontman Tim Harrington, who is like a bulkier, beardier, screwier Iggy Pop, wrung out his sweaty bandanna into my unsuspecting mouth. I’ve seen this guy climb up twenty feet of loudspeaker in an attempt to dangle from a disco ball, and perform countless other life-threatening stage motions, some which I vaguely recall involving electricity. (I’ve seen Les Savy Fav at least twelve times.) I admit it bums me out that the frontman of indie rock’s major throughline from the early ’90s ‘abrasive yet melodic’ heyday — Superchunk, Archers of Loaf, Chavez, etc. — a man who made me drink his sweat, woke up one morning, saw that his album leaked on the internet, and then said to himself, “What we need here is a Creative Solution.”
Root for ruin indeed. Except the album is quite good — maybe their best sounding. Chris Zane, who produced, has given us the best snare drum sound of 2010. Harrington has written his best lyrics yet, a perfect balance between the black humor of early releases and the more deliberately poignant stuff he aimed for on 2007’s Let’s Stay Friends. The guitars are the biggest and weirdest they’ve ever been, and one song has a talkbox part reminiscent of Brainiac, which is Riff City catnip. Judging from what the band told Stereogum in June, I say they’ve accomplished what they set out to do: make a record that would have been outrageously popular fifteen years ago. An indie rock classic upon release even, whose obscurity fifteen years later I would point to as a casualty of the genre forgetting its aggression and embracing this softer, less ‘rock’, more car commercial-friendly side that’s so popular right now.
Nothing would make me happier than for you to prove me wrong and make this band as popular as it deserves to be. But to wit: It’s been a long time since Butler, as Frenchkiss label head, has signed a band as heavy as his own. Can we blame him? In 2010, Second Wave synthpop bands from Cambridge, Massachusetts pay the bills.