“People do not know how to sit with themselves anymore, it’s like they’re afraid of the silence.” I was having lunch with one of my favorite professors from school when he said this, with an infliction in his voice. This struck me for a couple of reasons: 1) I was having a bad day, which included me being constantly distracted by noise (noise outside, technologically, etc.) and 2) what he said was a “confirmation” to what I had been previously thinking about. My friend and I always talk about “confirmation,” which is (without getting too philosophical), the universe confirming an answer to a question you had in your mind through abstruse, non-direct means. This statement that was made by my professor was reassuring for me, for he helped me to realize that I am not crazy. He also made me understand that confirmation is indeed something very real, for what he was basically saying was “Silence Yourself”. The UK based post-punk outfit, Savages, asks the world to on their debut LP, Silence Yourself, to remove all the distraction in their lives by turning off the noise. The irony of the circumstance is that they ask you, the listener, to do this all the while blaring loud noise into your cerebral. The result? An album that is challenging, precise and demanding of your attention, for the lesson that it is trying to teach is one that you sure as hell need to learn.
Savages is one of those bands that did not need a substantial back catalog or extensive touring in order for the power of their music to be felt. Since the band’s inception in 2011, Savages has garnered acclaim off of a live EP and two singles, essentially, with a couple of shows in Europe and the US. With such a minute amount of material, it would be hard to conjure up the thought of Savages gaining almost unanimous praise from critics and musicians alike. Once you begin actually listening to Savages, however, it is not hard to realize why artists such as the trip-hop pioneer Geoff Barrow refers to the group as “one of those classic bands”. On the band’s debut LP, Silence Yourself, Savages only heighten the intensity, with driving post-punk rhythms and frontwoman Jehnny Beth’s confronting lyrics regarding women’s sexuality, social strife and freeing one’s soul.
The first thing that I should probably mention about this collective is that they are far removed from any “feminist” conventions or agendas. Beth has stated that while she does support the motives put forth by feminist activists, she ultimately does not want Savages compared to such things as the riot grrl movement or bands like Bikini Kill. This is due to the fact that the band’s philosophy goes beyond that of sexual gender/orientation, envisioning liberation for everyone. The opening track “Shut Up” puts these principles on display for all to embrace, whether you want to or not. Although the demanding nature of the song may at first turn some people off, the musicianship of Savages eventually convinces you, with the Beth’s voice being implicative of Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees. The bass playing on this song (hell, the ENTIRE ALBUM) is probably the best I have heard all year—-from ANY band. Not only is the instrumentation stellar, but the lyrics are gut-wrenching, with Beth singing about world being a “dead sorry hole” and “seeing souls” all while being weirdly arousing.
Throughout the album, the intensity does not stop; as a matter of fact it picks up with the song “City’s Full”. Fans of post-punk innovators such as Joy Division would be drawn in by the tracks chugging riff, thick bassline and driving energy. Similar to how Matador labelmate band, Iceage, brought the rawness of hardcore punk this year with the release of You’re Nothing, Savages brings the ferocity of what made post-punk great since the early 80’s. Beth’s sexual nature is apparent on this track as well, admitting in a sinister growl “I love the stretch marks on your thighs/ I love the wrinkles around your eyes”. It is this kind of blatant honesty that makes Beth attractive, without the need for makeup or a voluptuous figure; matching up to the controversial-yet-groundbreaking personality of Liz Phair in the 90’s with songs such as “Fuck and Run” and “Flower” (blowjob queen anyone?).
The longest and one of the more slower paced tracks on the album, “Waiting For a Sign”, is more drawn out but seems just as apocalyptic as the opener. The track starts off with some feedback, followed by some strong drum hits that slowly trudge in, allowing room for the misery to grow before words are even sung. The darkness on the track is nostalgic of bands like Bauhaus, letting the dreadful mood set the backdrop on the canvas, so that a mournful story can be told. This song is in no way similar to acts like This Mortal Coil, a band that managed to transform lament into gracefulness. Here, Savages wants you to hear all of the ugliness, pain and misery that is in the world. On this track, Beth screams “WAITING FOR A SIGN” over and over on the chorus, in a sort of manic mantra, as if she is expecting a blessing or assurance from a divine spirit.
The pleading urgency see on this song segues perfectly into the midpoint mark, “Dead Nature”, which is basically the Gods answering to Beth’s testimony by saying “No.” This infers another analogy to one of You’re Nothing’s tracks, “Interlude”, instead on this album, the piece is set in an economic and appropriate spot. Not only does the song act as a bridge to the latter half of the album, it also acts as a sequel to “Waiting For a Sign”. Even when the Savages are not intense in their tempo, they remain intense, with loud gongs and an EERIE-ASS CLOCK in the backdrop. It sounds like a tortured mixture of Swans and a Halloween score. Proceed with caution, there is a reason that this song is called “Dead Nature”. It is dead, it’s desolate and no, there is no hope.
Savages manage to rev themselves right back up with the song “Hit Me”, adopting more of a straight up hardcore punk approach to the song structure. Acting as the shortest song on entire LP, it is the fastest and in some ways the most abrasive. Beth, a well known advocate of porn, wrote this song as an ode to pornstar Belladonna, who described a sexual encounter where she was hit. There is not a second in which “Hit Me” give you a chance to breathe; instead it holds your head in the toilet and forces you to like the abuse, just like Beth enjoys being hit during her sexual endeavors, manifesting what happens in the bedroom onto the song.
“Marshal Dear” is another ironic-but-still-appropriate moment that ends off the album. The bass and guitars are set aside in light of a piano ballad (although these elements are still involved on the track). In my opinion, this song could be titled “Waiting For a Sign, Pt. 2”, for Beth sings with the same pleading tone on this song. However, instead of actually “begging” this time around, Beth is crying for a silent revolution by stating “I hope you’re breathing you’re last breath/Oh Marshal Dear”. The urgency that runs through the veins of this entire album is still present up to this moment. However, in lieu of screaming and screeching guitars demanding the attention of us as the listener, the somberness of Beth’s voice grabs us just as much, if not MORE, sort of like a silent child that was tortured for years but never acted out. You know that something is wrong and you expect an outburst from the child at anytime, you just do not know when or what is going to occur.
The ONLY thing that may “bug” some people about this album (and it really shouldn’t) is the derivative nature of some of the songs on here. Some people may cry “oh, too much Joy Division, too much Bauhaus, blah blah BLAH.” And while some of the melodies on here may be a little too close for comfort to some of the band’s influences (as observed by Anthony Fantano of theneedledrop) it still does not take away from the overarching concept of the album. Savages managed to make one of the sharpest, strongest, ferocious and most demanding statements in rock; one that has not been made in years. This makes me excited, not only about what the plan to do next, but also how Savages plan to leave there mark on the world, even if it is burning. Similar to Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Alleujah! Don’t Bend, Ascend!, Silence Yourself may not be what is wanted in rock at the moment, but it is for damn sure what is needed.
- Edginess? Check. Musicianship? Check. Best bass playing all year? Check. Songwriting? Check. I could go on and on about the positives on this album, but if these things appeal to you, I shouldn’t need to. Buy it. Listen to it. Start a Revolution.
- Some folks may find some of the similarities to bands such as Joy Division and Sioux and the Banshees too distracting. While this is understandable, I would urge those who cannot get past the sound of Savages post-punk pioneer influences to spend time with the album. Trust me, you won’t regret it.