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PS I Love You Shred Mightily on ‘For Those Who Stay’

SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: July 22, 2014
Label: Paper Bag Records

Being a guitar hero in 2014 seems only slightly less quaint than being a cheese maker, and at least people still actually pay for cheese. So Mascis bless PS I Love You frontman Paul Saulnier for being the kind of dude that straight-up rocks one of those guitars that are, like, double guitars on stage. Saulnier is a proud shredder in an era that doesn’t quite know what to do with such a thing, and his band’s third album, For Those Who Stay, finds him working overtime to prove that he belongs on the (very) short list of modern ax gods that includes Marnie Stern, Kurt Vile and Marissa Paternoster.

Previous PS I Love You albums showed that Saulnier had studied the tablature sections of Guitar Player with great dedication, taking bits of Bob Mould’s buzz saw melodic sense, Thurston Moore’s feedback and Alex Lifeson’s tangled complexity and running it through a decidedly raw filter, aiming for stadium grandeur on a DIY budget. But For Those Who Stay finds him going Full Corgan. Not only did he and drummer/backing vocalist Benjamin Nelson record in a proper studio for the first time, but he overdubbed hundreds of guitar and keyboard parts, a move that feels as inevitable as it is appropriate for this band.

The hard work paid off. You can hear a hundred chiming overdubs in opener “In My Mind At Least,” and each one feels essential. “Afraid of the Light” is a touch-the-face-of-God anthem that sounds like Saulnier tried to write a song for the Olympics and came closer to achieving his goal than you’d imagine.

The playing here is top-notch, but Saulnier’s tricky, soaring runs sometimes seem grafted onto compositions that stumble under the weight. “Friends Forever” juggles a hotrod riff, Frampton solo and shimmering, skyward chorus, but never seems like more than a collection of hot parts in search of a hot song, and “Bad Brain Day” is a reasonably pretty folk ditty that nevertheless feels like an obvious attempt at diversification. No doubt this will all slay live, but there are parts on For Those Who Stay where Saulnier’s obvious talents and ambitions never quite get three dimensional, though it’s obviously not for a lack of effort on his behalf, as this is one band no one would ever accuse of not trying hard enough.