Les Savy Fav Root for Ruin Review

Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Classic Les Savy Fav fare, but their lively rock still translates best in the live arena.

Chris Beanland 2010

Les Savy Fav's unique selling point is their Dadaesque live shows, the Brooklyn-via-Rhode Island outfit having now delivered 15 years’ worth of these intoxicating performances. Though all members have got involved, playing encores beneath a band-sized blanket, it’s with good reason that attentions are almost exclusively focused the way of singer Tim Harrington. Renowned for his bull-in-a-fancy-dress-shop costumed posturing and his pied-piper shtick, he can lead any audience on a merry jig while beating a drum with a single stick. Hairy, portly, and with a semi-permanent "Here's Johnny!" expression on his face, Harrington doesn’t look like a man you'd readily let near your kids.

Bearing in mind how singular these gigs have been – at least for the first few times one witnesses the band – the question has always been: why bother with their records? Well, you might not get to see the full nightmare unfold up close, but you get a good slug of Harrington's haunted vocals and that frission of on-stage energy from the constantly duelling guitars – often it feels like this quintet is primed and taut like an elastic band ready to snap. Root for Ruin, like the four never-less-than-thrilling LPs that went before it, contains so much of merit. But once you've listened you really need to see its makers live to get the get the experience in colour.

The band’s fifth LP has something of a curved trajectory. Its beginning and end are pumped up. The opener, Appetites, is a brilliant call to arms, and arguably the best track on this album – mesmeric guitars and disco drum lines show LSF at their dancefloor-bothering best. Dirty Knails is muscular, its madly catchy chorus topping a song built asymmetrically, like all the greatest LSF outings are. Sleepless in Silverlake and Let's Get Out of Here move things into pop territory, both mainstream-welcoming and replete with warm melodies. Album closer Clear Spirits, another highlight, features wonky breakdowns and warped effects.

But between its cracking start and appealing climax Root for Ruin experiences something of a lull. Lips n' Stuff, Poltergeist and High and Unhinged are a bit forgettable. There's not much in the way of new ideas either, but do we care? Given what fans love this band for, it's not a big problem.

Root for Ruin is bookended by some absolutely thrilling moments. Those distinctive hall of mirrors guitar effects are classic LSF, and they're still here in all their glory. This is a band that dares to go further in the live arena, and is still charting a rum-soaked course through the best kind of modern indie rock. They have delivered another album which is at least 70% corking. It's just that they’re much better when on stage, playing these tracks while scaring the life out of you.

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