Les Savy Fav’s live shows, wherein lead singer Tim Harrington abandons dignity and good taste for maximum entertainment potential, have become their calling card. It’s impossible to discuss the band without bringing their live act up, and it’s hard to listen to them without searching for recorded hints of that madness. Les Savy Fav’s best recordings invoke the same riotous, sloppy energy in spades, something that Root for Ruin manages to do, even while sounding just a little bit perfunctory.
Perhaps the band’s most amazing quality has been their ability to establish their albums and live shows as twin founts for this freewheeling power, each with their own, often very different, characteristics. Their live show is invariably dominated by Harrington’s fantastic presence, precipitating stretched-out guitar breaks as he wanders around and off stage, invading the audience like a charging bear. On record, Les Savy Fav’s appeal is much more balanced, free of sloppiness, and is governed by the perfect interplay of basic, satisfying elements.
The band’s songs are formally simple but always smart, loud but neat. Nothing on Root for Ruin stretches much past four minutes in length; the album fits in with its predecessors in this respect, and if it feels slighter than Les Savy Fav’s best work, it’s only by dint of its faithful similarity to that earlier material. Songs like “Dirty Knails” and the roaring “Poltergeist” function like quick post-punk missives with a greater melodic range, stocked with multi-tracked guitars and shredded by Harrington’s cascading voice.
It’s only halfway disappointing that Les Savy Fav’s sound has begun to calcify into a formula. The band mostly gets away with the resemblance between songs because of the raw pleasure those songs consistently invoke, which transcends influence and similitude. This is typified in the way Harrington quotes the Silver Jews’s “Punks in the Beerlight” at the end of “Appetites,” repeating the words like a skipping record, an energy-dominated moment that’s both ragged and sublime.