Review Summary: Solid 1997 effort from RI-based indie rockers blends great influences, but leaves certain, important things to be desired.
If The Pixies had formed ten years later than they did, they might have sounded a little bit like Les Savy Fav. And I guess that could be taken as a huge compliment; Les Savy Fav obviously takes a big influence from the band, but I think that’s a bit of the problem. Cat and the Cobra is a good record; full of screaming, dissonance and rock ‘n roll propulsion, but it just might be too little too late. It’s apparent that Les Savy Fav has a hearty appreciation for the Late 80’s/Early 90’s indie rock scene from the get-go. There are the angular guitars, the pained vocals and the heavy bass; you know them all so well by now. That being said, there’s more than a shred of good songwriting on Cobra, and that’s apparent from the beginning as well.
The Orchard is introspective and personal, sure, but the whole thing just feels so apocalyptic. Tim Harrington screeches and moans, the drones of the lead guitar falling in and out of harmony with his tormented calls, and, when everything settles down, the music really falls into place. It’s a great song, probably the best on the album, and far more akin to the chilling proto-post rock of Slint than anything that opening paragraph would have you believing. As a punk rock lyricist post-1990, Harrington might not be among the upper echelon of his kind, but he comes close enough; his words are simple, but poetic, and delivered with enough anguish to get his point across. His vocals are mid-range and goes from a quiet whisper to a violent shout in an appropriate time for a student of such genres. The music is guitar-heavy, but the dry production keeps it from sounding as thick as the former, laughably generic description often implies. The drumming is consistent, but not exactly inventive and the bass playing is generally on par. That said, the band’s rhythm section does a nice job holding up Roadside Memorial, Harrington’s ode to a broken heart (which includes the class lyric, “I’ve got to hand it to my heart/It should have shattered long ago/But the goddamned thing wont fall apart.”) as guitarists Seth Jabour and Gibb Slife noodle accordingly.
A couple tracks down the line, Dishonest Don part II proves to be one of the most inviting on the album, especially after its clanky, ominous intro. Parts (especially the muffled backing vocals in the song’s bridge) recall Mid-Western Indie/Emo favorites Cap’n Jazz, a territory the band has not, up until this point, began to mine. The rest of the song is bouncy, slick and interesting; not a bad combination of adjectives in the slightest.
But in the end, it’s the lack of originality and the album’s high density of more annoying songs (We’ve Got Boxes, The Incentive, a couple more) that really bring Cat and the Cobra down. It’s not a bad listen though, and songs like The Orchard and Roadside Memorial reinforce that fact tenfold. Fans of the genres and bands mentioned in this review will certainly find kindred spirits in Les Savy Fav, but it’s unlikely that Cat and the Cobra will be the record you turn to when you want more of that kind of music. Sometimes, if you want the freshest water, sometimes it’s better to return to the river’s source, and I guess that proves truest in situations like this.