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Savages : Silence Yourself

Perhaps you could put it down to a general lack of confidence in the music press stemming from years of disappointing “next big things”, or maybe it’s a deep-rooted, instinctive reaction brought about by spending an eighteen month period in the mid-’90s listening almost exclusively to old Public Enemy albums but whatever the reason, when it comes to checking out new bands these days I find myself naturally suspicious of any kind of mainstream hype. So it’s come as quite the surprise to find myself caught up in the whirlwind of anticipation surrounding the debut album from London four-piece Savages, about whom websites and publications on both sides of the pond have been gushing profusely ever since their first gig in January last year; particularly as prior to receiving my review copy of said album – Silence Yourself, out May 3 via Matador – my excitement was based largely on just two studio recordings and a handful of beautifully produced live clips. Both sides of the group’s first 7″, “Flying To Berlin” and “Husbands” (included here), grabbed the listener by the short-and-curlies and punched them repeatedly in the face with a startlingly effective combination of spiky, Gang Of Four-indebted post-punk and Ian Curtis-like levels of nihilistic intensity, leading to a number of “female Joy Division” soundbites that, after repeated plays, started to sound less like a lazy comparison and more an astutely accurate observation, given extra weight by the black-clad quartet’s fearsome, alternately brooding and manic on-stage persona. Pleasingly, then, Silence Yourself is exactly the album we hoped for. Any (understandable) worries that it might fail to live up to expectations can be assuaged; there is no filler here, no indications that Savages are the flash-in-the-pan band du jour I feared they might be, and whilst nothing about it is exactly original it still sounds new and exciting purely by virtue of the fact that it’s been so long since any rock group sounded this genuine, this passionate. Singing about sex, violence, domesticity, perversion, pain and pleasure with a wicked air of ambiguity (“There are so many skinny pretty girls around/ Honestly, I just want go down“), front-woman Jehnny Beth snarls/ croons/ whoops/ shrieks every line with such righteous conviction it feels like she might just slit the throat of anyone stupid enough to argue with her; lyrics like “Hit Me”‘s “I took a beating today/ And that was the best I ever had….Will you hit me/ It’s the only way I’ll ever learn” might ruffle a few feathers in certain circles but they raise valid points about outdated social perceptions of unorthodox sexual desires, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be the one to question them. Gemma Thompson, meanwhile, is revealed as the band’s not-so-secret weapon; without wanting to detract from the epic efforts of Ayse Hassan and Faye Milton, whose Jah Wobble-like bass and cymbal-thrashing drumming drive these songs relentlessly forward, it’s Thompson – wrangling barbed wire riffs and distorted howls from her guitar like someone who has studied John McGeoch and Johnny Greenwood in equal measure – that provides tone and texture. She’s also responsible for the smart sequencing: hook-heavy numbers like “Shut Up“, “City’s Full” and “She Will” (“She will enter the room/ She will enter the bed/ She will talk like a friend/ She will kiss like a man“) offer relatively slight variations on “Husbands”‘ winning formula – clanging bass or needling guitar intros give way to propulsive verses, then heavier, more frantic choruses and abrasive, explosive climaxes – but scattering them across the record not only presents them as key plot points in a carefully constructed narrative but also highlights the band’s other strengths. “I Am Here“‘s stop-start rumble, “Strife”‘s lurching Sabbath groove and the glacial, gothic “Waiting For A Sign” all offer first-half variety, as do Pixies-like thrasher “No Face” and the chaotic, squalling quickie “Hit Me” on side two; even instrumental interlude “Dead Nature” feels like an essential part of the overall arc, providing a mid-album breather of sorts whilst still evoking the kind of clammy dread one would associate with being chained to a radiator in a dark, leaking basement. The biggest sonic surprise is saved for last, though, and we’re not talking about Beth’s bizarrely alluring Gallic pronunciation of the album’s title (“sill-enn-ce yourself“); closer “Marshal Dear” is a slow-burning, Bowie-esque torch song that recalls Dog Man Star-era Suede – the last British band that actually deserved the kind of adulation Savages are currently receiving – and ends with a brief free jazz freak-out. That it feels entirely natural, as opposed to some kind of pretentious cred-grab, is a good indicator at just how effortlessly these ladies have mastered their craft, and of the possibilities for expansion of their sound in the future. So, are Savages really the best band in Britain? Looking at my rolling list of 2013’s best albums, I’d have to say that they are. Whether they can maintain the intensity they’ve displayed burning brightly in the dark once they’re basking in the spotlight remains to be seen, but this is the kind of thrilling, life-affirming music that makes you believe now is all that matters. Believe the hype.

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About foamhands

My name is Michael Dix; I'm a decade or so past being down with the kids, but to me new music never gets old. Apparently I like music that sounds like faulty kitchen appliances and ritual slaughter; really I just like what I like, whether that happens to be indie, pop, punk, hip hop, metal, electronica, Afrobeat or jazz. Follow me on Twitter @FoamHandsBlog to receive notifications of new posts and the occasional random brain-fart, and please share links wherever you can. Enjoy!

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