Les Savy Fav Review For The Quietus
September 1, 2010, 1:47 am
Filed under: Album Reviews, Album Reviews: Noted Artists, Recommended Albums, The Quietus

Call it a leap but for some reason there’s something of Falkor the Luck Dragon to Brooklyn joy-punkers Les Savy Fav. That’s right, from The Never Ending Story, that big goober-looking canine who you mistook as your Dad for a week in 1984. Since forming in the mid-nineties they’ve matched booming voice and bad breath in their meathead, punk rockin’ (yet never indignant) outlandishness, with the hint of danger – in the post-punk-informed tenets of splintering guitar, crooked pacing and unstable foundations. They’re weird, grimacing, powerful and lovably without pretence. On their latest entry a well-conditioned celebration of their hitherto glories arrives.

They have a somewhat make-believe presence but for a band with such cryptic lyrical content they elicit personal connection effortlessly. Somehow every time Tim Harrington tells us that it’s ‘we’ that triumphed and its ‘we’ that will escape, your heart melts in righteous bonhomie. Whether it’s doing something cool with a bone in Bronze Age arcadia or frenching with a horse, we were there. In the sleepy beast’s kind old eyes and wizened humour, your poor but happy local punk veteran shines through, showing us tragic monsters how not to take life too seriously. That’s called having a satisfied mind – an ancillary benefit of doing what you love.

Because, despite ever since debut 3/5 being classified as Art-punk – as in difficult and detached- Les Savy Fav’s output is really just the surrealistic racket of a troupe of grounded and defiantly humanist New Yorkers. One’s who value their day-jobs as much as the mischievous adventures afforded to them by being abrasive, Art-informed and able to turn a left-field tune at the drop of a hat, all at the same time.

On Root For Ruin as is true throughout their entire back catalogue, it’s their humility that defines them. Despite their relative originality and having never pandered to prevailing trends, it’s the target for high-handed detractors who think them prosaic, inauthentic or crudely inclusive, as if efforts to be universal somehow render them barren, but it’s a different kind of truth they preach. Equally, the tragically self-reflexive Dave Eggers-types probably struggle with them, inattentive as LSF are of practiced awkwardness and hyper-aware quirkiness. When fleeing either section of cultural territory, though, their greatest feat is always sounding fresh – reward for never having being so presumptive as to impose a self-reverent ‘sound’. Because of this, the possibilities have always seemed limitless.

So, they prefer to just go with the flow and with Root For Ruin have turned in a markedly complete and typically sublime new chapter to that flow, which while not career-best, is arguably their most melodically solid record, and the most devoid of overflow. On opener ‘Appetites’ – as on Lets Stay Friends’ ‘Pots and Pans’ – they begin by taking stock, stating their intentions and basically dragging their old bones out into the arena for another existential scrap. “We’ve still got our appetites” screams Harrington, setting the scene for the carnal leitmotif, a theme that seems to be doing the rounds in indie circles of late, something about rejecting the wilfully sexless tradition of the genre. They intermingle the dirty-talk with a poetic weariness, which when teamed with the good-natured romps (and as a pretty good metaphor for the band) makes you think of that old couple who still do it because they are still in love; sickening but hard not to celebrate.

Take a closer look at their varied oeuvre and more often than you might credit them that big luck dragon will spirit you over moon-flavoured clouds in a winsome flight of philosophical contemplation – case in point the simply transcendent ‘What Would Wolves Do’ from Lets Stay Friends. It’s this part of their equation that forms the rock on which Root For Ruin is built. Surging and touching and crowned with shining choruses and emolliating guitar parts, ‘Sleepless In Silverlake’, ‘High And Unhinged’ and album highlight ‘Let’s Get Out Of Here’ are what defines Roots. The bite, the bark and the Post-Hardcore influences take a back seat to euphoria, even at points verging on the everyman Trad of Syd Bulter’s Frenchkiss signing The Hold Steady, but don’t let that put you off. You wonder why they don’t more often use the mountain-top reverb that smothers a darkly howling ‘Poltergeist’ and the climactic ‘Clear Spirits’. It plays well to their consciously grandiose sound and makes them that bit more epic, without sacrificing any of their rapport with the listener. John Calvert

While Harrington produces his most omnivorous vocal performance yet, giving us Jello Biafra, Rivers Cuomo, a selection of primal hollers and a lot of singing, the band and notably the great Seth Garbour are less conspicuous and event-driven than on Lets Stay Friends, the arrangement less braided. It’s for the greater good of focusing on a barrelling directness and steadily-applied sweep – inspiring of pursed-mouth air-drumming and rent with vocal hooks, shades of Cheap Trick and a little early Weezer, without the crunch. Perhaps they know their future lies in giving their live attendees a grand old time, despite the front man’s admittance he’s “going cynical” on the candidly downbeat ‘Dear Crutches’, which contains an acerbically poignant depiction of a break-up: “You can go home my sweet, just please don’t go home today”.

Of course there’s plenty of room for disarray on the likes of craven cage-rattlers like ‘Excess Energies’ and ‘Calm Down’, or the sing-along ‘Lips’n’Stuff’, but they’re the weakest tracks by some measure. Their lowest ebb comes on ‘Dirty Knails’ – a mite too stodgily conventional for comfort. Having expelled libidinous evil, they finish with fireworks in the shape of ‘Clear Fluids’. Which, with its comfortingly ground-shaking drums and a shearing riff it’s as if in shaking off the sex-spell they are thinking clearer, and the result is another belting chorus. And on the good times go.

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