Even as they creep closer to the mainstream (or as the mainstream creeps closer to them), Les Savy Fav make it clear that they haven’t jettisoned bluster in search of mass appeal. As brash as ever, Root For Ruin finds the NYC band in a particularly lascivious mood. Les Savy Fav exercise their libidos, which is a good thing, frankly, slipping sex into the too often neutered indie rock conversation. Within Root For Ruin’s first few minutes, world-class weirdo/Beardo Tim Harrington leers, “Show us your teeth and show us your tits/ Show us your scars from the shit that you did”; the song is titled “Appetites,” and it’s clear that Harrington’s not just talking about his gut. Two songs later and tits are again mentioned; despite the frequent gratuitousness, the crass language doesn’t feel forced or unnatural. Harrington’s lyrics come across as assured and keenly observational, rather than obnoxiously crude. Or perhaps they are obnoxious, but deliberately so.
Les Savy Fav are no longer fresh faces on the scene, which means that they have even more to prove than the usurpers who have followed in their wake. The scene — as much as sex — is a constant point of conversation on Root For Ruin. “Sleepless In Silverlake,” one of the album’s gentler tracks, describes the apathetic feelings — the floating listlessness — engendered by Los Angeles and its shallow, privileged party life. “We try to beat the haze away,” Harrington confesses, referring to his existential malaise as much as to commonplace environmental hazards. Haze, that fuzzing of mental faculties, is something that grows with age; impotence, like smoggy, cloudy thoughts, is just another manifestation of the slow fade of middle age. Fear of growing older, more than sex or scenes, is embedded in the heart of Root For Ruin. Just think about that title for a moment. Root — the buried tips, the grasping, living claw — and ruin — the reduction, destruction, disintegration. It’s heavy stuff, but well-suited for as direct a front man as Harrington.
If they’ve toned themselves down, softened the sharper edges of their riffs, Les Savy Fav haven’t gone entirely flaccid. Their sound is matched to the subject matter; guitars buzz, echo, ring, and loop, like lingering symptoms of panic attacks or of career-caused tinnitus. Even when they decide to go large, banging out massive, unmissable choruses, the reigning sentiment is one of longing and regret. Littered with simple verbs, like ‘want’ and ‘need,’ “Let’s Get Out Of Here,” the band’s broadest effort on Root For Ruin, is both urgent and unmistakably melancholy; it’s also the closest they’ve ever come to cracking the mainstream. Surpassing even “What Would Wolves Do?” (from 2007’s Let’s Stay Friends) in terms of pop appeal, the song trespasses on vintage alt-rock ground. Comparing Les Savy Fav to, say, Foo Fighters might seem like a backhanded compliment, but there isn’t that much shame in that association. Like Dave Grohl’s long-running stalwart group, Root For Ruin proves that Les Savy Fav are nothing if not in it for the long haul.
Harrington and guitarist Seth Jabour compare Root For Ruin to a monogamous relationship in the album’s press materials; the analogy works on multiple levels. Root For Ruin is rarely exciting, but it’s nevertheless satisfying. Their concerts might be as potent as ever, but by now their albums have settled into a comfortable, familiar routine. Here, Les Savy Fav aim for consolidation, rather than reinvention. Root For Ruin is hardly a great album, but it is an affirmative gesture toward commitment, to each other and to their craft. Perhaps that’s too hetero-normative or establishmentarian for the rock ’n’ roll world, but, as with their lyrical candor, this unexpected normalcy is less a struck pose and more a logical life choice, an acceptance of their roles within the frenzied world buzzing incessantly around them.