It’s difficult for any band that has built a reputation on intense live shows to translate those performances on to record, but over the last 15 years or so, Les Savy Fav haven’t done too badly. If nothing else their records have allowed the rest of the band a chance to shine along side their frantic frontman Tim Harrington.
On their last album, 2007’s Let’s Stay Friends, they attempted to branch out a little by softening their sound and adding a smoother more accessible edge. In addition, they were joined by a host of contributors from the likes of Fiery Furnaces, and Broken Social Scene. This time around however, they’re doing things completely on their own terms.
The question that hangs heavy on any band who’ve been around for nearly 15 years, is whether or not they’ve got anything left to give. From the opening seconds of Root To Ruin Les Savy Fav seek to answer this question quickly. Guitars quickly adopt a spiky cutting edge, like coiled razorwire, whilst Harrington spits staccato lyrics with admirable venom. “We’ve still got our appetite!” they bellow at the refrain – they’re certainly not being defensive; this is a statement of intent.
Dirty Knails keeps the pace up with some fantastically propulsive rhythm work from bassist Syd Butler and drummer Harrison Haynes. Often the unsung heroes of the band their locked grooves are vitally important to making LSF click. It’s here that LSF sound most like Fugazi as the guitars trade licks like punch drunk prize fighters whilst Butler and Haynes keep things tight. It’s a breathless gallop that finds Harrington almost taking a back seat despite yelling “watch me grovel, watch me groove, watch me crawl across the fucking floor for you”.
Unfortunately at this point, things seems to go off the rails a little. Sleepless in Silverlake is a hazy non-descript trudge through LA, which tries hard to sparkle but just stinks up the place. Let’s Get Out of Here meanwhile just seems a little too simplistic. Its pop-punk chorus should explode, but it merely pops and apologises in far too polite a fashion.
There are a couple of poor tracks that could well serve as a root for ruin for the album, but LSF have too much quality to let a couple of duds spoil the fun. Poltergeist hums with a sense of pure evil. The guitars drone like a swarm of angry wasps whilst Harrington adopts a long drawl and takes the lead like a shamanic Jim Morrison, intent on chaos and destruction. It’s a theme continued with Excess Energies, a straight up kick-in-the-teeth rocker that flexes its muscles and spills pints on purpose, just so it can instigate a ruck. It is as taut and wired as its title suggests, and filled with a force that struggles to express itself fully. Harrington is just about up to the job.
The album closes with Clear Spirits, an almost industrial dreamscape which finds Harrington singing rather than bellowing. The intertwining guitars of Seth Jabour and Andrew Reuland smash into each other, creating explosions of shattered riffs and squalls of sound seemingly at random around his head. Unlike anything else on the album, Clear Spirits stands out, with its submerged melodies, insistent basslines, and cascading guitars. If nothing else it proves that Les Savy Fav can still be vital and are still writing challenging, inventive material.