Savages: Silence Yourself Track-By-Track Preview
, April 25th, 2013 08:37
James Ubaghs gets his ears around the much-anticipated debut album from Savages for a Quietus track-by-track preview
As regular readers of The Quietus will know, Savages excel at making whip-sharp bracingly minimalistic post-punk, and much like a good steak, or a well-tailored suit, it's something that never fails to satisfy when done properly... and Savages are really doing it properly. Their meteoric rise has been that all too rare of things in the age of the internet, a genuine word-of-mouth success, and one that's then organically snowballed into media attention. The level of buzz around the band has predictably given rise to some cocked eyebrows amongst the contrarian set, but their transcendent and masterful live shows are usually enough to quell any doubts.
Their limited discography to date has left many asking whether they could be more than just an excellent live band - could they back it all up with a great album? Thankfully their debut LP Silence Yourself defiantly confirms that they have.
The album begins with a spoken-word sample from John Cassavetes' Opening Night. An older-sounding woman aggressively interrogating a young woman about her age, which lends itself to a variety of interpretations. The intro is briskly interrupted by a rollicking bass line, swiftly followed by the rest of the band kicking in even harder. It's melodic, yet thrillingly ferocious, and then the whole thing kicks it up another notch in an epic breakdown near the end. This is an eye opener, and a blazing statement of intent.
'I Am Here'
This one has been a real standout from their live show and the I Am Here live EP; all sparse feedback and drums that resemble PiL circa Flowers Of Romance, before it explodes into an unanticipated existential stormer that's something so much bigger. They're so good in concert that they could have done an MC5 and had their debut proper be a live album, but the excellent production here adds a whole a lot to the Savages sound, and thankfully the studio version of 'I Am Here' has the necessary oomph. They are here. They really are.
It was that early live video of 'City's Full' that set this whole Savages train in motion and it's not hard to understand why. Vitality, a sense of danger and passion were all clearly evident. It also set them apart from all those knuckle-dragging 'post-punk' revivalist indie idiots of the past decade who listened to half of Entertainment, and thought a poor facsimile of Andy Gill's guitar tone was all it took to make great music. Savages know it takes a lot more than that.
'Strife' slows things down a tad to a heavy, vaguely Black Sabbath-like stomp. It's a good showcase of the psychedelic dimension of Savages' sound, and even better demonstrates just what an excellent rhythm section the group have. Fay Milton and Ayse Hassan - drummer and bassist respectively - provide a ferociously pummelling, yet subtly grooving spine to this song. Have a truly excellent rhythm section and you could replace the guitarist with a flatulent fat man and the singer with loops of George Osborne reading out budget reports, and your band would still rock the fuck out.
'Waiting For A Sign'
This is the quietest one yet on the album, but a fine demonstration of the fact that you don't have to be loud to be heavy. With strong dynamics, 'Waiting For A Sign' is powerful, evocative and shows what a fine grasp of ambience and mood the band have when they decide to dial it down a notch.
And now comes a suitably dread-inducing ambient interlude. It's as mordant as you like, evoking apocalyptic landscapes: you know, the steel grey sky hanging over a bombed-out French chateau, with corpses of dead peasants purposefully littered about in a circle in front of a giant melting grandfather clock, that sort of thing.
'She Will' might be the most immediate song on the album, and guitarist Gemma Thompson's fantastic riff is the type of thing that wheedles its way into your brain like one of those mind controlling worms from The Wrath Of Khan, but with less chance of death at the end. The guitar feels surfy, elegantly simple and restrained, while still being massive and subtly aggressive.
This might be the only song on the album that doesn't quite work. The band is as tight as ever, and it's a punchy, well-written song, but the lyrics just don't stick. Jehnny Beth's angry repetition of “you have no face, you have no face” takes on an absurdity, and it's doubtful if that's the intent.
'Hit Me' is the most chaotic song on the album, and it feels almost like some strange cross between Black Flag, and big band swing music, with an added dash of no-wave, and it features some wonderfully perverse lyrics. It's an excellently abrasive jolt to the senses, to say the least. What more could you possibly want?
'Husbands' was on their first single, and it's hard not to wish there was a new as-yet unheard song in its place... but that's probably my fault for listening to it too much, and in the years to come any excitable 17-year-old stumbling on this album won't be giving a shit that this song was released months before as the band's first single, because this song kicks ass. And that hypothetical future 17-year-old would be right. It does.
“This is how the world ends, not with a bang but with a slow mid-to-late 70s-era Bowie-like ballad that really grows on you the more you listen to it”, as T.S. Eliot famously once wrote. The tactfully deployed piano, the few dynamic spurts of guitar and saxophone that comes in at the end all point to Savages being a band that do subdued as well as they do brash.
It's eminently possible to philosophise about why Savages feel so much more vital than most other rock bands, but really the truth might be simpler. Maybe they're just better than most of the others; better musicians, better songwriters, a better band dynamic, and more thoughtful than most. Silence Yourself is a thrilling arrival from a band who, crucially, have much much more to come.