Look, I love Les Savy Fav as much as the next guy, but let’s be realistic about their major selling point: it’s lead singer Tim Harrington in concert, and I would doubt the sincerity of anyone who claimed otherwise. The remainder of the band deserves plenty of credit for their limber and endlessly engaging brand of arty punk, but it’s their live show that keeps me returning to the band time and time again. Harrington is just that good of a stage performer: spastic, guileless, and consistently hilarious. When I show up at a Les Savy Fav show, I don’t particularly care what their set list consists of, so long as the hirsute, lovable Harrington keeps the antics and one-liners coming at a consistent clip, and he hasn’t let me down yet.
So anytime Les Savy Fav announces that they have a new album coming, I’m excited mostly because I assume a tour will be announced shortly thereafter. This isn’t to disparage the band’s catalog, but I’ve liked, not loved, just about every EP, full-length or singles collection they’ve released. 2007’s Let’s Stay Friends made an effort to inject more melody into the mix, possibly as an attempt to give listeners more reason to love the actual songs rather than just enjoying the frenzy. For the most part, it was successful, and the band’s latest, Root For Ruin, shows that the band was happy with that approach and is trying it out again.
Of course, there’s still plenty of room for some madcap fun. The awkward start-stop tempos of opener “Appetites” provide a perfect forum for Harrington’s manic lyricism. The chorus (“We’ve still got our appetite”) may very well be a reassurance to fans worried that the band is softening their edges, but with an opener as assuredly nuts as this one, fans need not be worried about such a development. Harrington is even confident enough to outright crib the outro to the Silver Jews’ “Punks in the Beerlight” (“I love you to the max”) and use it as his own. Audacious, to say the least.
Follower “Dirty Knails” keeps the spirit of “Appetites” alive with a whip-smart surf-punk riff that blasts the song right out of the gate. Immediately thereafter, Les Savy Fav cool things down a bit with “Sleepless in Silverlake”, a fairly typical indictment of the shallowness of Los Angeles. Though Harrington’s insights into L.A culture are nothing revelatory, the interplay between the guitars and drums lend the song an authentically ethereal, insomniac vibe.
Less difficult to buy is Harrington in the sincere, jilted romantic role, which effectively sinks “Let’s Get Out of Here”. Due to his almost invariably hectic persona, Harrington has always been able to sell some pretty absurd lyrics. And he gets some doozies in on Root For Ruin, most notably when he sings, “be a hammock for my heart” to his significant other on “Dear Crutches”. But even Harrington can’t sell lines with zero shelf life like “Let’s be friends with benefits” (from “Lips ‘N Stuff”).
Still, there’s plenty on Root For Ruin that unequivocally works. Closer “Clear Spirits” needlessly proves again what a tremendously incendiary band Harrington is fronting, as they match his apocalyptic ramblings note for thunderous note. If Root For Ruin has a consistent problem, it’s the band’s shaky attempts to reconcile their newfound emphasis on melodicism (“Sleepless in Silverlake”, “High and Unhinged”) with their more historically hyperactive tendencies (“Excess Energies”, “Calm Down”). Once Les Savy Fav get a firmer grip on how to balance the two more effectively, they may end up with an album that can stir up just as much excitement as their live show.