Les Savy Fav, then. It’s been 15 years since this hugely influential yet often overlooked art-rock/post-hardcore band formed, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that they may now, like other similarly-aged bands, be phoning in their records. I had the same initial concern, especially since 2007’s Let’s Stay Friends saw the band’s greatest work to date, embellishing their hardcore roots with a growing maturity they had discovered in the 6 year hiatus since Go Forth in 2001. Surely things must have gone down-hill since then?
The band get straight to work in dismissing these claims, with frontman Tim Harrington screaming “we’ve still got our appetite” on album opener, Appetites. I’m unsure as to whether this track is a statement of intent or a wakeup call to themselves, but it’s hugely exciting, driving and vicious and really sets the tone for the rest of the album. The guitar work by Seth Jabour and Andrew Reuland on this track is simply mesmerising. The intelligence in writing such complimentary yet challenging guitar hooks is evident, and it seems as though their apparent one-upmanship is the driving force behind the band, each colourful layer adding hugely to the overall asthetic of the track. This continues into the jackhammer punch that is Dirty Knails, a track that reminds me of Future of the Left – fitting, really, since that band count Les Savy Fav as one of their prime influences.
The next two tracks, Sleepless in Silverlake and Let’s Get Out Of Here, are far more accessible than the rest of the album, possibly approaching anthemic, poppy territory. Drawing allusions to the Pixies, Let’s Get Out Of Here has the potential to be a real crowd-pleaser and really seeks to draw you in and form a relationship with the band. It’s a shame, though, that this track doesn’t really seem to project the youthful passion that Harrington was once so able to weild, and it feels a little tired as if he himself is lazily contemplating how he can get out of here during the song’s end section.
Lips N’ Stuff is another track where you’re left wondering if Harrington is really struggling to channel his former passion. The lyrics seem a bit too clichÃ©d, really, which isn’t something we’ve come to expect from their previous work: “Let”™s be friends with benefits / You know we”™d be into it / I won”™t even say we kiss / We just touch our hips / talk to our lips n”™ stuff.”. Between these two tracks, you can’t help but wonder that if the guitar work wasn’t so strong they’d be sorely lacking anything of merit at all.
It’s not all bad news, though. The album soon picks up again with a real belter in Excess Energies, and the album closers Calm Down and Clear Spirits are both wonderfully engaging. These tracks manage to recapture the excitement that I think the band have been looking for, and sadly lacking, throughout the mid-section of the record. Les Savy Fav are clearly painted as a tight unit here, with vocals, guitars, bass and drums each feeding off and inspiring the others. The production is markedly tidier than their previous albums, with the band sounding incredibly tight. Every part here is well thought out and inspiring, and the last few tracks serve as a very memorable end to the album which leaves you with a positive experience all-told.
Finally, I’m not sure you could write a LSF review without mentioning the on-stage antics of explosive frontman, Tim Harrington, and my review is no different. Their live show is oft-regarded as one of the most exciting of the genre, thanks in part to Harrington’s relentless energy, costume changes, french-kisses with audience members and his general lack of interest in staying on the stage. The sheer force of will that he projects in a live setting is mesmerising, and it’s this experience that’s so hard to capture on a record – perhaps this is why some of the album’s tracks feel so flat. In fact, I’m left wondering if Root For Ruin, whilst overall a solid album on it’s own merits, is more an appetiser for the main course that is LSF’s live show. Sure, Root For Ruin contains it’s fair share of thrilling, energetic moments (in part originating from Harrington’s vocals but mostly from the constantly battling guitar parts of Jabour and Reuland), and you can tell that this is a band who thrive on the passion that drives them, but I get the feeling that this LP is the analogue TV to the live show’s 3D IMAX.
2. Dirty Knails
3. Sleepless in Silverlake
4. Let’s Get Out of Here
5. Lips n’ Stuff
7. High and Unhinged
8. Excess Engergies
9. Dear Crutches
10. Calm Down
11. Clear Spirits