Once you have had the privilege of seeing Les Savy Fav live, which I recently did, it becomes hard to separate the record version of the band from their live persona. Tim Harrington, the band’s singer, can seem abrasive or hilarious, depending on your age and sense of humor. He can seem disgusting. Hell, I bet some ladies or bears even find him sexy. However, the actual music seems to take a backseat to his antics, no matter how hard his band, which includes Frenchkiss Records honcho Syd Butler, tries to hold everything together. This is both their appeal and a stigma. Though their live show is electrifying, and their albums all hold strong years after their original recordings, how seriously can you take Les Savy Fav when their persona seems to come with a giant wink?
Root For Ruin, the group’s first record in three years, cements Les Savy Fav as winners in both lights, as serious post post-punk and as fun-loving, party-starting fare. The album manages both to be distinctly a Les Savy Fav album while pushing the boundaries of the sound you would come to expect from the group. As the opening song clearly states, the band still has their appetite and the new record is anything but phoned-in. There are no clunkers in the bunch. Every song could stand on its own without the album and if anything, the album slightly suffers for not having connector songs. With every song standing strongly on its own and the band pushing their boundaries, it keeps Root For Ruin from being a masterpiece. Instead, it is just really, really, really good.
Harrington is at new heights in both his vocal range (he manages to channel both Jello Biafra on “Appetites” and Ian Curtis on “Poltergeist”, while never once losing sight of his distinct personality as a singer/yeller) and his melodic sense. Lot’s of people like to refer to Let’s Stay Friends as their poppy record, and that trend continues on Root For Ruin. “Let’s Get Out Of Here” is almost danceable and could easily have teenagers singing along in their parents cars with simple-as-pie lyrics like “I want you to want me right now.” And though he might be an easy target for his simplicity, he never sounds ignorant or stupid. Though a song like “High and Unhinged” can be criticized for being too straight to the point, there is a sophistication in his angst for the love interest in the song and you actually believe Harrington is being insightful rather than spiteful when he says “it’s you that’s all alone.” Yes, these songs show a softening of the band, but they never feel like an old band that is showing their age, like, say, The Hold Steady on their recent effort. The softening of Les Savy Fav feels mature and wise and just about perfect.
But oh, for those who want the humor, the vulgarity and the angst, there is plenty of that on this album as well. “Excess Energies” is the anthem for a 17-year-old shithead. The album includes the line “show me your tits” at some point. There is a song about L.A. that provides no insight whatsoever to the city but is still strangely enjoyable. There is a song about people who deny they are in a relationship and it becomes awkward when you actually picture Harrington as the protagonist “touching his lips” to the object of his affection. Does it all work? Yep. Seriously, not a dull moment here and I haven’t gotten sick of this record in the slightest.
And then there is the song “Dear Crutches”. In an album full of high-points, this is the highest. The mid-tempo jam features the singer singing like “Pots & Pans”, a previous band high point, and creating the ultimate sing along moment of the album when he hits the hard notes for the line, ”just don’t go home today,” and then the song’s climactic refrain of “I don’t want to be your crutches…anymore.” Harrington finds a way to completely shed his persona on this number and the listener can finally forget who they are listening to and just listen.
The backing is impeccable throughout, with not a single complaint really holding any water. Les Savy Fav are professionals. They have taste. They’ve done their homework. And they know that their success hinges on their vocalist’s ability to deliver on the silver platter that is handed to him in song after song. It is both our privilege that he does and almost a challenge to get out there and support this band for their continued commitment to quality. Les Savy Fav have the personality, the songs, the chops and the work ethic to be true leaders in the indie world, not just movers and shakers from behind the scenes like they are now. Buy this record. See a show. Get a t-shirt. Be the coolest kid in class. Support the goddamn arts. Yes, Les Savy Fav are serious. Are you?