Music Reviews
For Those Who Stay

PS I Love You For Those Who Stay

(Paper Bag Records) Rating - 8/10

Guitar heroes are traditionally lame. Whether it's some cheeseball sporting a quad-guitar in a video cassette of the popular ‘80s guitar series Hot Licks, a traveling member of the G3 tour (complete with carefully positioned stage fans that accentuate the innate drama held within their flowing locks) or, perhaps more contemporary, a 13 year-old youtube shred phenomena with an axe sculpted in the least ergonomic shape possible, it’s nearly impossible to view these kinds of people as anything more than purveyors of tacky musical schlock. However, this is precisely what makes PS I Love You’s Paul Saulnier stand out to great effect. He’s a gunslinger in a genre where gunslingers are literally the least cool thing imaginable, and ‘coolness’ is everything… and he pulls it off completely. Truly, it would be difficult for anyone to call the distorted riffing and finger-tapped soloing of PS I Love You anything less than tasteful and entirely genuine. And I’m proud to say that on that level (and a few others) the band’s latest album, For Those Who Stay, delivers the goods.

For Those Who Stay is easily the band’s ‘biggest’ sounding record to date — no doubt a product of their ability to record in a proper studio this time around. Album standouts like Advice, Afraid Of The Light, More Of The Same, and the grand title track are rich with caches of multi-tracked guitars, thunderous percussion, and ambient walls of backing vocals. Of course, compositionally, Saulnier seems to be taking several cues from the playbook (or tablature journal) of Alex Lifeson, and maybe a few from Kevin Shields and Thurston Moore, as he blends dexterous, guitar-nerd complexity with earnest, open chord passages. Particularly, the outro solo of For Those Who Stay evokes a Floyd-ian vibe, while the sparkly clean accompanying guitar seems reminiscent of Nile Rodgers — a popular point of comparison in the indie rock sphere as of late, but I assure you it’s entirely appropriate here. However, as ‘big’ and bloated with guitar tracks as this record gets, it still somehow feels less crowded and more tame than the group’s previous records.

On Meet Me At The Muster Station, and even a little on Death Dreams, PS I Love You were tied together with a manic sound. On those records, every note was played with an unmistakable sense of immediacy, as if Saulnier and drummer Benjamin Nelson were afraid they somehow wouldn’t be heard. Obviously, some things have changed since then — a couple of critically well-received records, for certain — and it seems the band is now a bit more comfortable in their own skin. So naturally, some things have been lost on this new record — or rather, more appropriately stated, they’ve moved past some of their old creature comforts. 

For the most part, For Those Who Stay intentionally detours from the band’s typical impulse to coat every sonic surface with pulsating walls of fuzz. By about the third track in, we’re granted an aural reprieve with the acoustic Bad Brain Day and then again later in the album with the glacial sounding Afraid Of The Light. In some places, Saulnier even loses his signature yelp and lets his natural tenor belt, which in a weird twist seems to reveal his vulnerability even more than before — especially during the intro of Afraid Of The Light and at the end of album closer Hoarders. However, I don't at all mean to suggest that For Those Who Stay somehow does away with all the hallmarks of previous PS I Love You songs. To the contrary, Limestone Radio, a personal favorite of mine, and In My Mind At Least certainly deliver the band’s familiar fuzz-frenzied grind, but there's definitely a feeling that these songs are slightly out of pace with the rest of the album.

It’s hard not to admire anything PS I Love You puts out simply because it’s done with such a sense of sincerity and craftsmanship. Every note is carefully played, but not robotic. The arrangements are crowded, but not claustrophobic. The musicianship is emphasized, but not overstated. Yet, while all this is certainly true of For Those Who Stay, there still feels to be something missing — a self-conscious spirit, a fear of not being heard. It’s a subtle difference for sure — one that isn’t always easily masked — but in between flanging magnetic tracks of razor-sharp licks and stentorian drums, it can still be felt from time to time.