Release Date: May 7, 2013
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Post-Punk
At 11 tracks in 38 minutes, the full-length debut by this London band of women is a constant, compact fury: Emotional confrontation and sexual vengeance executed with martial discipline, at mostly blinding speed. Savages do not write songs as such. “I Am Here,” “No Face” and “Husbands” are stark whirls of one-sided argument, with Jehnny Beth shooting across the turbulence – Ayse Hassan’s grunting bass, Gemma Thompson’s scorched-treble guitar – in a pagan-priestess wail.
One of the best ways to end an argument is to simply agree with the point the person opposite is making. You’ll find it causes all reasoning and deduction to go out the window and brings things to a clattering halt. Think differently? Well, of course you’re totally correct. The criticism often levelled at Savages is that they aren’t doing anything new.
Before their show in Seattle last month, London four-piece Savages posted a sign around the venue that laid out a couple of ground rules: no Instagramming, no video, no tweets-- in short, "SILENCE YOUR PHONES. " This could be seen as a part of a growing trend of bands pointing out how sick they are of looking out into a sea of smartphones rather than human faces (the Yeah Yeah Yeahs posted a similar missive at their recent New York homecoming show), but it felt more like an extension of Savages’ overall manifesto. And no, “manifesto” is not too dramatic a word; especially in contrast with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ sign, which tempered its message with chatty humor (“PUT THAT SHIT AWAY!.
If you go to Savages’ website right now, something strange happens. “Shut Up,” the band’s opening song from their debut LP, Silence Yourself, begins playing without asking for your permission, while a black-and-white image of the band dissolves to reveal the song’s lyrics. It doesn’t require you to read into anything, just for you to read something, but if you follow along, you discover that some parts are left out.
Fronted by a black-clad fire-breather who goes by the deceptively unthreatening moniker Jehnny Beth, Savages traject a world hurtling towards oblivion. High-speed, tension-plagued stormers like “Shut Up” and “Husbands” sound like they may shatter into obliteration at any moment. Not content to simply cop post-punk aesthetics, these East London dread merchants are steeped in the sort dystopianism and apocalyptic anxiety that drove the likes of Killing Joke and The Banshees to such dizzying heights of foreboding.
SavagesSilence Yourself[Matador/Pop Noire; 2013]By Malcolm Martin; May 8, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetSavages have declared war. Disturbances wrought by our "modern world" threaten to obscure our connection with our Selves. This is a war on distractions. The mission statement of Silence Yourself, worded in dour prose on the album's cover, is clear: expose society's illusions; liberate yourself from distraction; live again.
You’ve probably heard about Savages by now. For a year or so, they’ve been the most talked about rock band in the United Kingdom. Their I Am Here EP and Flying To Berlin b/w Husbands single provided a dose of raw energy that is becoming increasingly rare in the guitar world. Their intensity was so high that it didn’t even matter that their best song shamelessly stole the bassline from Joy Division’s Colony, and that their next had a fairly large resemblance to the chorus of Patti Smith’s Horses, because Savages rocked in the most basic sense of the word.
There's something about "guitar music" that causes the British music press to lose control of its collective hyperbole reflex, bestowing "best new band in the UK" honours on any young scrappers with six strings, an amp and a worn-out copy of Is This It. But after breathlessly extolling leather-clad flameouts like Palma Violets and the Vaccines, they've finally found a band worthy of the hype: Savages. The band has already built a mystique with their live show (frontwoman Jehnny Beth's penetrating glare and righteous wail transfixed a packed Horseshoe Tavern at this year's CMW), but Silence Yourself proves they've got the songs to back it up.
London quartet Savages take music dead seriously, like it’s an exam. Since the release of meticulous B-side ‘Husbands’ last summer, the all-female foursome have played their cards close to their chest, choosing interviews carefully and taking their androgynous brand of post-punk with the industrial spirit of Magazine and Gang Of Four to venues nationwide. French frontwoman Jehnny Beth has moulded herself into the demonic, possessed spawn of Ian Curtis and Siouxsie Sioux.
Since Pop Art or earlier, serious UK artists have generally supported the idea that art and everyday life are indivisible. Popular logic, however, dictates otherwise: songs about sexual liberation, self-actualisation and social anxiety are quaint, old news, passé — why bother telling us what we already know? It's attitudes like these that London, UK post-punks Savages capably belittle on debut LP Silence Yourself. With vivacious percussion and carnivorous fretwork, the record blisters through themes of female emancipation ("She Will") and submissive sexual experiences ("Hit Me") while rebuffing our cultural addiction to irony, which is more concerned with rejecting bogus values than recognising positive ones.
Plenty of bands have resuscitated post-punk throughout the 2000s and 2010s, but few have done so with the passion that reverberates through Savages' debut album, Silence Yourself. The band's early singles drew favorable comparisons to Patti Smith, Siouxsie Sioux, and a host of other strong female acts with post-punk roots, and the entire album burns with the same kind of confrontational fire those older artists had -- which, somewhat paradoxically, makes Savages sound particularly refreshing compared to many of their more blasé contemporaries. Yet Silence Yourself is also an emphatic declaration of independence that is reflected in the band's approach to making music -- they paid to make it with their own money and splashed their manifesto on the cover -- as well as in the actual music.
There’s some cognitive dissonance in Savages naming their much anticipated debut Silence Yourself, because there’s absolutely nothing quiet or demure about the buzzed-about UK act and its unblinking neo-post-punk. Indeed, Savages got on the radar by backing up its own brand of next-wave don’t-call-it-feminist rock with an attitude that’s just as loud and brash as their music. Even if they don’t fully identify with the feminist tag often attributed to them and apparently bristle at gender-specific comparisons, it’s still fitting to contextualize Savages, sonically and thematically, according to a tradition of bands that didn’t mind making the personal political and vice versa, their approach harkening back to the socially-minded abrasion of the Slits and the Raincoats, the bombast of riot grrrl acts, and the boundary defying proficiency of Sleater-Kinney.
They may be the latest British buzz band, but Savages sure don't sound like one. Rather than mining their home country's rich rock heritage, the current darlings of the U.K.'s indie press pull their energy from the seething, sex-charged sonics of acts like The Birthday Party and Suicide. Judging by the hype that's surrounded them since the release of their inaugural single in 2012, that approach is working.
Thus far, this year's hotly tipped alt-rockers have sounded weirdly flaccid and aimless: listening to the albums behind the hype, you find yourself wondering how the bands could be bothered to make them. That is not a problem with the debut from London quartet Savages, which burns with a feverish sense of purpose: the sheer intensity with which She Will or City's Full are delivered is breathtaking. You can hear echoes of the music that inspired them: frequent comparisons to Siouxsie aren't, as the band have intimated, a reflection of a sexist media's inability to see beyond a singer's gender so much as a reflection of the fact that singer Jehnny Beth sounds not unlike Siouxsie; while Sonic Youth's ghost lurks around the whirlwinds of feedback on I Am Here and spooked, clangorous instrumental Dead Nature.
People say, 'When you see them live, it makes sense.' But what do they mean, it? Do they mean the cult, the credibility inflation of Savages? The hype, the column inches, that whole horrorshow? Sometimes you suspect they mean something more. Some eternal psychological struggle, perhaps - such is the irrational vertiginous joy of the performance. Whatever it is Savages have got it, both onstage and on record.
“We live in an age of many stimulations,” proclaims frontwoman Jehnny Beth in the introduction to Savages‘ video for “Shut Up“. “You want to take part in everything, and everything to be a part of you. Your head is spinning fast at the end of your spine until you have no face at all.” The erosion of identity through overstimulation isn’t a new concern in post-Internet culture, but rarely is it so explicitly criticized by musicians.
Hard to believe these days, but there was a time when music was not intended as mere entertainment. Quite the opposite: as the punk era gave way to post-punk in the early 80s, most bands came with manifestos. Their raison d'etre had to be about more than just dancing, or chasing members of the desired sex, or driving, or surfing. Bands were named after the women used as sex slaves in a Nazi concentration camp (Joy Division) or the political writings (scritti politici) of theorist Antonio Gramsci (Scritti Politti).
I’ve been reading Please Kill Me, an oral history compiled by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain that traces the evolution of the musical anti-movement we know as punk in New York in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s immensely jealousy-inspiring – those interviewed talk about going to see the Velvet Underground or Patti Smith or the Stooges or Television play among their first shows at divey Lower East Side clubs, sensing they were watching history in the making. It’s appropriate, at least for me, that the London quartet Savages’ debut record Silence Yourself is coming out around the time I’m totally immersed in this history – seeing Savages live in October 2012 felt like watching history in the making perhaps more than any other show I’ve seen, and they’ve reminded me since I first heard their music of Kim Gordon’s t-shirt from that famous Sonic Youth press photo: “Girls invented punk rock, not England.
It’s with a rare urgency that post-punk foursome Savages bounded onto the scene, eliciting almost universal applause and a low rumble of fevered whispers. There was barely a shred of sound available online last year, but their name was banded around every which way by those in positions of power and anyone discussing ‘next big things’. Methodically selecting venues for brutish, barbed performances which piqued nationwide attention, the LDN-ers have been dragged kicking and screaming into 2013 by the hype machine; part of a guitar-based class of acts due to graduate this year, the stakes have never been higher for this wave of musicians.
Like its British brethren, Savages draws strength from Seventies post-punk in all its angular, dissonant, melodic glory. On the London quartet's debut Silence Yourself, the group whips up a storm of aggressive rhythms, strident vocalizing, and six-string sheen as if the succeeding pop trends never happened and Gang of Four and Siouxsie & the Banshees rule the charts. Gemma Thompson's reverb-happy guitar swaggers like the love child of Will Sergeant and Rowland S.
A savage is the transformation underlying what happens to the characters of Lord of the Flies once they realize that there is no turning back. This sort of conviction, this sort of desperation, this sort of primitive impulse is shown in everything from the way the children in the book hunt and kill a wild boar, to the way they turn on each other and even conspire to kill an equal by heaving a boulder from a mountain onto him. Their name inspired by such novels, London-based quartet Savages take the ultimate reflection on the new genre of post-punk revival with their monstrously thriving debut, Silence Yourself.
It’s been twenty years now since the World Wide Web went live and introduced us to a veritable cyber smorgasbord: YouTube cat videos and Facebook statuses and tweets. With so many options for entertainment, the logical response seems to be to do a little bit of everything: to click through the five (or 10, or 20) tabs on our browsers, tend to our phones’ incessant buzzing like a helicopter parent, and blast an album in the background to add some variety to the white noise. And you know what? That’s not neccesarily a bad thing.
Inspiration, not innovation, is what I look for in Savages. One Quietus reader insists, every time we write about them, on commenting "post punk karaoke", ironically himself forgetting that movement's urge to say something new. Of course, it's perfectly easy - as it is with so many bands in this age of refinement - to pick apart Savages' influences on Silence Yourself, their thrilling debut album.
Laura Mvula SING TO THE MOON The songs on Laura Mvula’s debut album, “Sing to the Moon” (Columbia), hail from some alternate pop universe: a realm of choirs and orchestras, of dense harmonies and of songs that unfurl their own forms rather than follow verse-chorus-verse formulas. Ms. Mvula has a composition degree from the Birmingham Conservatoire in England and has directed a gospel choir; she’s a musical architect.
The artwork for Savages’ debut record seems to capture them perfectly. Shot in stark black and white it features a piece of prose that weaves together the ideas of the album, focusing on the title of the record and the noise that disturbs our modern lives.‘If the world would only shut up / even for a while / perhaps / we would start hearing… the distant rhythm of an angry young tune.’This is a band who have a very clear vision of how they want to communicate.It’s no surprise. Savages arrived with their brutal single ‘Husbands’ and the 2012 live EP ‘I Am Here’ as a band seemingly already fully formed.