Les Savy Fav is an interesting indie rock group. In many ways, their early career paralleled that of Modest Mouse: moments of brilliance on inconsistent albums before finally reaching their LP breakthrough. For Modest Mouse, it was The Moon and Antarctica; for LSV, it was the singles compilation Inches.
The path following these albums, though, was very different. Modest Mouse immediately tailed off. Their follow-ups, the EP Everywhere and His Nasty Parlor Tricks (Pile of Death/The Peaches Pile) and the LP Good News for People Who Love Bad News (CD Rack) coincided with a move to a major label, and a much more safe approach. They're no longer even on my radar.
Les Savy Fav, on the other hand, stormed back with their two most consistent albums: 2007's Let's Stay Friends (Car CD Changer) and this album, Root for Ruin. The opening track ("Appetites") is in the vein of their best song (IMHO), "We'll Make a Lover of You" (and if you don't know this one, you need to check it out): starting slightly off time, the song musically fills out as the song progresses. And much like "WMALOY," there's a major change over halfway in that reveals the most interesting part of the song. ("Lips N' Stuff" does this one better, waiting for 3 minutes of the 3:48 song to reveal itself. Great stuff.)
But that's not the only trick up their sleeve. "Dirty Nails" has a great sustained groove for the entire song. And "High and Unhinged" has a classic pop structure: Verse p1, Verse p 2, Refrain p1, Refrain p2, lather, rinse, repeat. This may not be the best song on the album, but it's my favorite.
Throughout the album, the guitar playing is spot on. It's not jammy, but is right on for each song, well placed and well thought out. They've taken the step Modest Mouse couldn't: they've been able to apply consistency to their music without losing their edge.
Also, this album is great both lo-fi and hi-fi; it works great in the car, but a headphones listen reveals the subtleties of the album.
However... there are some issues with Root for Ruin. The sounds are great, but sometimes the wrong ones take center stage. On "Dear Crutches," for example, the guitars that support the overall melody starting at about 3 minutes in are the best part of the song; they get lost in the morass of everything else. I really would love to hear this guitar brought out and given a more plaintive treatment, like The Delusions' "Nobody," Longwave's "Ghosts Around You" or "Wake Me When It's Over," Built to Spill's "The Weather," Sand Rubies' "Never," Failure's "Stuck on You"... and actually Les Savy Fav's "False Starts." (The perfect reference for this is actually Scott Bishop's "Perfect Mistakes," but none of you have heard this song except for Margo and Mrs. Snilch Report.)
Also, a great album has a great closer. For example: My Bloody Valentine's Loveless - "Soon." Bob Mould's Workbook - "Whichever Way the Wind Blows." Weird Al Yankovic's Polka Party! - "Christmas at Ground Zero." All of these put a period on the end of the sentence, and I'm simply not sold on "Clear Spirits" doing this.
In the end, these are nitpicks on another great Les Savy Fav album. They make you think lyrically, and they're great musically, with the layered guitars lockstep with a smart rhythm section. They are insistent, entertaining, and amusing, retaining the exuberance of youth without sacrificing the wisdom of experience.
iTunes recommendations: I'd recommend every single song I mentioned in this blog, with the possible exception of "Dear Crutches," for obvious reasons. The reference songs are all tremendous.
Merch rating: I'll see them when they come to town next time, as long as it's not on a Sunday. I'll definitely grab a t-shirt and any albums I don't have.
CD Placement rating: Portable CD Case. But this album continues to grow on me.