Savages band photos

Photo: Tony Moore

Contrary to what you might have heard, Savages’ debut album, Silence Yourself is not a perfect record. However, this record might be something more exciting than a perfect record — a record that is both a screeching introduction and a solid foundation to build on.

Great debut records are few and far between. Most bands have a hard time balancing the swag of great rock ‘n’ roll with great songs/great ideas, but that is not the case for Savages. Singer Jehnny Beth and co are a fully realized band of breadth, purpose, force and subtlety. Not unlike the early Clash or PIL’s debuts, Silence Yourself sounds like a band that has been gestating a long time and born fully grown. You can hear the full power of Savages’ stage show in almost all of these songs. One of the things I find most impressive about Savages is the undramatic majesty of many of these songs. “Husbands” is a four-on-the-floor rave up, all first-wave-of-punk bass and angular guitar that poke and prod the listener like a burning stick.  On “Hit Me”, guitarist Gemma Thompson channels her inner Keith Levene, balancing noisy cacophony and workmanlike punk rock riffage. That’s a hard kind of thing to pull off. “Dead Nature” is simply an ambient piece where stark, effected and delayed bass floats like a buoy on the sea, interrupting the assault and giving the listener a break from being pummeled — a sonic palette-cleanser, if you will. This is the kind of track only a confident band that really understands itself well would include. Impressive. There’s even some Ornette Coleman-inspired Harmolodic saxophone. Let’s just say these kids get it.

One of the more interesting things (and certainly one of the things that may help Savages be so successful) is that they have a band credo. Identity and purpose are the kind of things that only the great bands seem to grapple with (does anyone care who the Killers’ favorite 1970s American Filmmaker is? Does anyone care whether Tad has a women’s studies degree?). These girls have definitely studied the great early British post punks with great results. You can hear all the sneers, gobbing and pogo-ing of London 1980 — a time often imitated but rarely successfully. Savages nail it as well as anybody has since … and that may be my only criticism of this record. As kids do, some times Savages wear their influences on their sleeves a little too much. A keen, studied ear can play “pick the influence” with Silence Yourself but really that’s nitpicky for a debut. My guess is that they are two records away from doing something that screams “SAVAGES!” In a distinctive and definitive way, they just need a little more experience and wisdom.

A lot has been made of their gender/identity politics and to me, a VERY impressive thing is that their music/musical identity is so strong that it almost makes that whole discussion moot. They are interesting, their music is interesting-er. To me, this is a band and a release that needs no backstory.

In my estimation, there are few perfect records: OK Computer, Revolver, possibly Sound of Silver (maybe?); these records all have great character, great sounds, great songs and great identities. Savages have all of those things in spades and if they play their cards right, they are destined for the rarified air of the great ones.

Savages will headline the El Rey Theatre on July 23. You can buy your tickets here.

Words by Stephe Psi-X

Silence Yourself
Matador Records
May 6, 2013