May 5, 2004 at 12:00 am

The best thing about NYC-via-Rhode Island School of Design’s Les Savy Fav is that they pull no punches with their pretension. (See, just that geographical pedigree sets you up right there, eh?) And Inches, the quartet’s latest slab is the ultimate exercise in indie-rock nrrd pretense.

See, it seems that in 1996, before the band had even officially formed, Tim Harrington and his merry band of art-punk interlopers hatched a geeky brainstorm: Release nine separate 7-inchers on nine different labels, making sure 1) that each of the singles relates in some way — stylistically, lyrically, cosmically — to the previous and next and 2) that the cover art is a cohesive record bin patchwork quilt. OK, fine. They did it. Yay.

Pitchfork readers of the world rejoice. So what? So what?! So let’s dance. (Or at least go to a bar and pretend that we’re too cool to dance.) If it weren’t for Les Savy Fav’s total embrace of pretense, they wouldn’t be able to make such able-bodied and quick-witted retread-retro-rock sound so fucking unapologetically great. When Daniel Ash makes out with Tim Kerr while Hugo Burnham and Jerry Harrison watch from box seats, sipping box wine, there’s more than interesting packaging at work. And that’s a snapshot of the little New York-via-Urgh! A Music War state of mind Inches has laid out over its 18 tracks. Sure, there are cuts where you figure the fellas got a little lazy in the execution (i.e. “hell, it’s only a 7-inch!” “Dude, what about the art project?!”), but when it’s good, all is forgiven and you can just kick back and have your nerves wrung out or pace around the room indulging the fidgeting, overcaffeinated, catalog-number trainspotting, chat room surfing cerebro-rawk fanatic within. Like the leadoff jam here says, “Meet Me in the Dollar Bin.”

E-mail Chris Handyside at [email protected].