ALBUM REVIEW: Savages ‘Silence Yourself’
“It’s music to break shit and fuck on the floor to,” said SAVAGES guitarist Gemma Thompson in a recent Pitchfork interview, as she and drummer Fay Milton attempted to characterise the band’s sound.
Silence Yourself is a primal record, straddling the paper-thin line between ecstasy and violence so expertly you could be convinced by SAVAGES that they’re one and the same thing. As debuts go, they don’t come much more assured than this. Raw but cultured, fuzzy but focused, familiar yet inspired, it’s a brilliant balance of contradictions.
The band themselves have an unmistakable allure. From their very first show in January 2012, the black-clad, all female quartet, exerted an unflinching intensity and unapologetic confidence that simply demanded attention. Of course what defined their aura was having some serious chops to go with it.
Silence Yourself is unmistakably post-punk in identity and although there are clearly many other influences at play, the band immediately garnered comparisons to the likes of Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees. That said, the dark, forboding atmosphere of the genre feels more like a piece of shared DNA within the band rather than coming from any conscious choice to pursue it. They’ve managed to avoid a sense of derivativity, producing a set of songs that earn the right to be judged in their own right.
Each band member’s role radiates a vitality. Milton and Ayse Hassan‘s rythm section provides both weight and dynamism, the latter woman’s bass line that cockily kickstarts ‘Shut Up’ a fine example of the often trampoline-like foundation layed out. The chiming riffs of Thompson‘s guitar regularly degenerate into shredded squalls of feedback. Jehnny Beth‘s passionate wail often intensifies into climactic shrieks. Her physical prescence is as stripped back and raw as the music itself.
The result of the oft repetitive lyrics is that they’re effectively hammered into your brain. The band have explained that this is a result of peeling back the sentiments being expressed to their most essential form, enabling them to hit with maximum force. This simplicity works because the band rarely operate on literal terms. Every word is a double-edged sword.
Provocative lines like “I’m ready when ya hit me,” typify the blurred contexts SAVAGES work in because they’re sung with such unhinged defiance it’s impossible to definitively tell whether it’s pleasure or pain we’re privy to or if the song’s protagonist even sees a difference.
Each song has it’s own power, yet they all fit seamlessly into the larger framework of the album. Previously released as half of a double A-side single last year, highlight, ‘Husbands’ is all paranoid, break-neck urgency, the heavy-breathed chorus increasingly shrill as it loses meaning and a guitar-as-chainsaw comes crashing through the wall.
Bringing the high-octane, organised chaos to an end is one last contrast. ‘Marshal Dear’ is all elegance, closing the album with brooding piano and curly woodwind flourishes. It acts almost as a payoff for having fully and finally heeded the demand to silence ourselves. When Beth makes a stark, echoed call of “Can you hear me now?” it is really only be answerable one way. With a resounding yes.
Words by Brad Davies