Les Savy Fav’s pseudo-comeback in 2007 via Let’s Stay Friends was one of the more fortunate of the last decade. Les Savy Fav were always ahead of the curve, doing danceable punk years before the Rapture did it, and mixing art-punk with classic rock sloganeering when the Hold Steady were still lifting and pulling. They nearly broke up after 2001’s Go Forth, but the band kept together and recorded Let’s Stay Friends, which brought with it increasingly packed club tours and bizarre Pitchfork Festival appearances (including the one in which frontman Tim Harrington was cutting hair in the crowd). And now comes Root for Ruin, the band’s first album with real expectations, being that they’ve got more than just a loyal fan base riding on this one; they’ve got to prove their meddle like never before to keep the Johnny Come Lately’s on board.
Mostly prove themselves they do, delivering a snotty album full of knotty, twin-guitar punk anthems at least partly about trying to hold on to youth. “Now when we crash up our guitars/ You must confess the things you are,” Harrington says on early highlight “Sleepless in Silverlake,” finding that L.A. is full of kids with bleached teeth and tanned tits. Elsewhere, Harrington worries about his inability to ease into aging on the frantic “Calm Down,” howling “Our shoes are from the future, but our feet are from the past.” But rest assured, Harrington isn’t entirely over being a pissed off kid: “I am only 17, someone kick me in the teeth/ I could use some enemies” Harrington screams on the thrashing “Excess Energies,” before going on to discuss how he’s deconstructing what his father “did” to him.
Root for Ruin doesn’t have the ecstatic heights of Let’s Stay Friends, but it’s more level-headed in a way. Les Savy Fav have long been known as committed hard workers — they used to perform insane shows at bars for tiny crowds — and this is their most workmanlike album. That’s not meant in the pejorative. Root for Ruin just delivers everything we’ve come to expect from Les Savy Fav at this point: The big, shouted mottos (“Let’s Get Out Of Here”), the low-end art-punk (“Poltergeist”), the bleary-eyed near-ballad (“Dear Crutches”), OK songs on record that you’re sure will slay live (“Appetites”) and the teeth-grinding fury of prisoners let loose (“Dirty Knails”). Only thing that’s certain: It’s good these guys have decided to stick around for another album.