Savages, ‘Silence Yourself’ – Album Review
Savages make an immediate impression. That's true from their name to the glowering, haunted faces on the cover of their debut LP, ‘Silence Yourself,’ to their contortionist gothic post-punk sound to vocalist Jenny Beth’s savage (yup) dismantling of 21st century identity politics.
They’re an outfit that neatly fits the timeless four-piece rock ’n’ roll band mold -- each member playing a vital and identifiable role (forget post-punk, let’s talk Led Zeppelin and the Stooges) -- yet are in no way indebted to it. It’s not surprising the press has made sure to play up the band’s peripheral elements rather than the music itself. They’re an undeniably magnetic bunch, and their confrontational energy is apparent even before the music starts.
“Hype” has been the key word since Savages released their first single, the doomy anti-domesticity mantra ‘Husbands,’ nearly a year ago. They’ve somehow become the kind of band whose divisiveness arbitrarily forces folks to pick some sort of side before even engaging. Which is kind of tragic because ‘Silence Yourself’ is one of the more complete and fully realized punk visions in recent memory. The music is also surprisingly inclusive. In the same year that Holland’s Iceage perfected a brand of alienating teenage nihilism via crumbling mountains of post-punk fuzz storms, Savages are trading in clear and aggressive statements of intent. It’s the sound of actualization that understands the world too well to ask for it nicely.
‘Silence Yourself’’s success lies in how all its disparate pieces fit together. The album’s full of smokey, atmospheric goth touchstones; jagged motorik workouts; toothy no wave lacerations; and vicious, upward hardcore bashing, but each mode has a place. As a frontwoman, Beth is poised and full of purpose, her thick vibrato-heavy alto alternating between melodic and guttural with little distinction between the two. Everything coalesces perfectly, and the songs go places as a result. They work in gracefully transformative terms, straddling the line between tight hooks and flailing noise before setting their sights on a target high above and going after it single-mindedly.
The one-two of opener ‘Shut Up’ and ‘I Am Here’ are stark examples. ‘Shut Up’ opens with one of the most infectiously malevolent bass lines of the year, staccato guitars closely trailed by some screeching echo-chamber atmospherics deep below. Near the midpoint, Savages gently breathe some space into the song, and it suddenly goes widescreen, building and building, Beth unleashing the line “like a bullet to the sun” before it all supernovas. The track somehow begins subterranean and moves to the upper atmosphere in just over four minutes. ‘I Am Here’ is even less compromising, wound around a halting, bestial tribal rhythm and some noxiously textured guitar work. The final leg of the cut is a jaw dropping firestorm that somehow always ratchets up the intensity one more level than you expect.
‘She Will’ demonstrates Beth’s ability to drive and shape the band, as it finds her tackling sexual empowerment over placid psychedelic landscapes with lyrics like “She will open her heart / She will open her lips / She will choose to ignite / And never to extinguish” and “She will come back again / Get hooked on loving hard / Forcing the slut out” before a chugging bassline switches gears. Suddenly, the song becomes a heaving machine as Beth chants the titular line. It culminates into another fiery meltdown, ending on a piercing, static-coated shriek.
There are also tracks like ‘Waiting For a Sign’ and ‘Marshal Dear,’ which slow things down to a crawl without losing an ounce of their impact. The latter is a piano ballad with a goose-y clarinet solo while the former is a ghostly dirge with a spate of ravenous hell-bound guitar theatrics.
Emotionally, the record’s scope is definitely noteworthy, but the whole thing works within a singular and palpable atmosphere building quietly on the album’s outskirts. The contrast between sound design and visceral songcraft is one of the album’s strongest suits. It balances immediacy and subtlety better than most, but add to it the fact that ‘Silence Yourself’ has an obvious brain and heart at work as well, and you get one of the most accomplished debuts in recent years.