Savages - Silence Yourself

The music made by Savages, the four-piece London band who released their debut album Silence Yourself today, is a direct and linear thing. It’s easy to get the sense that the band plots out its arrangements on graph paper, figuring out the intricacies of guitar/bass interplay with mathematical precision, or that its reduced every element of its music down to the skeletons, the way Spoon might do. But Savages’ music has a chaos to it, too — a messy straining to create a system of beliefs, to resonate as something more than music to soundtrack your internet browsing or whatever. As everyone on said internet seems eager to point out, their music has direct postpunk antecedents, Public Image Ltd. and especially Siouxsie And The Banshees chief among them. But when I listen to Silence Yourself, I flash back on other bands, bands that were determined to mean something in any way they could: Nation Of Ulysses, Refused, Born Against, At The Drive-In. Those bands were noisier and more given to entropy than Savages, but they were similarly drawn to jangled manifestos, to audio clips of old movies, to backwards sound experiments, to anything that could grant them a resonance that, to their minds, a simple guitar riff might not do. And with Savages, as with those other bands, the flailing doesn’t distract or detract from the art. The flailing becomes the art. And it’s been a long time since we’ve heard a band flail so exquisitely.

At SXSW this year, Savages were something like Odd Future were two years ago; they were the group who came to, in a strange way, rule the festival. People went down to Austin excited to see the band, and we walked out of the band’s shows blown away, even after elevated expectations. We muttered to each other, “No, but have you seen Savages yet?” We kept them out of our mental best-shit-we’ve-seen roundups, partly because it seemed as unfair to compare them to, say, Parquet Courts as it did to compare them to Justin Timberlake. They played a million shows during the festival, but they still stood out as their own thing, apart from the tumult and the guest lists and the long lines for free Tito’s Vodka. That’s because whenever they stepped onstage, they presented themselves as a complete thing, a closed system. They all wore black; they all wore their hair short. They didn’t smile. They didn’t say hi to any crowds. They didn’t thank any sponsors, or make fun of any sponsors, or acknowledge the existence of any sponsors. They glared. They jutted their elbows. They knocked out razorwire postpunk anthems, behaving less like musicians playing rock songs and more like artists unveiling particularly severe sculptures.

The music was nothing alike, but in terms of how they carried themselves, they had a lot in common with the xx, in that they had their shit utterly and completely figured out before we ever caught a glimpse of them. Savages and the xx both had the black clothes, the restrained stage-movements, the deep rhythms, the exact haircuts that you would hope they’d have. They both somehow figured out ways to keep their bullshit-extraction process away from the audience. The two bands actually share a producer, Rodaidh McDonald, and the guy deserves credit for making these two great bands spartanize their respective sounds, to radically different effects. And as with the xx, there was absolutely no doubt that Savages would pull it off when they got around to releasing an album.

Silence Yourself is a special album. It comes coated with its own manifesto, something about shielding your brain from digital noise and immersing yourself in something greater. But that manifesto would mean nothing attached to a lesser album; Silence Yourself does a much better job at making the argument than the band’s words could ever do. It’s an album that demands attention and determination. When it’s on, I clench my teeth a little tighter, tense my muscles a little tenser. Colors seem more vivid and sharply defined. Any task I’m working on — the blog post I’m writing, the dish I’m scrubbing, the diaper I’m changing — takes on a breathless new urgency.

Husbands,” the band’s breakout song, is about waking up and realizing that you don’t know the person next to you, making that sound like the deeply apocalyptic prospect it should be. The Talking Heads sang about something similar on “Once In A Lifetime,” but that song had wonder and beauty in it; this one gets its point across in a terse, flinty surf riff like the one on the Dead Kennedys’ “Police Truck.” “Shut Up” launches headlong from an introductory Cassavetes dialog sample into a spidery wailer that never lets up. “City’s Full” is just as fast but thicker and beefier, and it makes plenty of use of the faint but icy accent that raised-in-France frontwoman Jehnny Beth blessedly never lost after she moved to the UK. “Hit Me” is a squealing, feedback-addled post-hardcore sprint, but even its peals of noise feel precisely manicured. The hard and triumphant “No Face” may be the strongest of the album’s bangers, and its hook (“You have no face! You have no face! You have! No face!”) has been rattling around in my skull since the first time I heard the album.

But the song’s greatest moments might be the two where the band slows down and gives its attack some room to breathe. “Waiting For A Sign” almost qualifies as doom-metal, but the song’s thunderous whomp comes undiminshed by effects-pedal pillowing, and there’s nothing nostalgic or comforting or bongwater-scented about its deliberate pound. “Marshall Dear,” meanwhile, has eerily placid pianos and a honking jazz saxophone that somehow never push it toward X-Ray Spex territory; the extra instrumentation give the song a measured calm that would’ve played great on early-’90s alt-rock radio. Those two songs, in particular, are the ones that convince me that Savages won’t be a one-album wonder, that their sound has more shadows to it than the wonderfully stressed knife-rock that the rest of the album offers. They’re the rare signs that the band is still learning new ways to channel its power. But that power, already entirely intact, is what makes Silence Yourself so special. Savages come to us as a fully-formed wrecking crew, and they’ve already made a debut album fierce and intense enough to shame bands that have been around for much, much longer.

Silence Yourself is out today on Pop Noire/Matador.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Deerhunter’s messily garage-rocky Monomania.
• Mikal Cronin’s generously sunny classic-rocker MCII.
• She & Him’s reliably bright and twee Volume 3.
• Van Dyke Parks’s lush, long-awaited Songs Cycled.
Hokey Fright, the winsome but dark debut from the Uncluded, the unlikely team of Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson.
• Talib Kweli’s hilariously titled Prisoner Of Conscious.
• Still Corners’ introverted, synthy Strange Pleasures.
• The Child Of Lov’s soulful but mysteriously glitchy self-titled debut.
• Co La’s wriggling electronic Moody Coup.
• Way Yes’s smooth midwestern indie-popper Tog Pebbles.
• The slick, star-rock Great Gatsby soundtrack.

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Comments (36)
  1. Shades of Manic Street Preachers debut here, for a host of reasons.

  2. I don’t know if I’ve ever found a band I’ve never listened to so interesting. Another week with multiple strong entries, I guess I should check this out…

  3. It is a striking record, almost reminds me of early Sonic Youth in its sheer intensity.

  4. Mono-mono-mania. I realllllly hope that album gets the credit it deserves at the end of the year (it’s a classic). And it’s only running second to Wondrous Bughouse so far.

  5. I guess this is just one of those times when I don’t really get the hype. To me, this sounds like a less exciting version of The Gossip. For example, I listened to “Shut Up” and it was catchy enough, but it immediately made me want to listen to “Standing in the Way of Control”, a similar-sounding song dialed up to 11.

  6. Good pick. Silence Yourself is an absolute MONSTER.

  7. That’s a lot of words to write about this band without at least one of them being “Souixsie”.

  8. I’m getting strong Joy Division vibes off this, and the same with their previous singles and live EP. Flying To Berlin/Colony anyone? And I have absolutely no problem with that.

    Absolutely love this album. Can’t get enough of it.

  9. I like this but Deerhunter and Cronin were way better.

  10. I am blown away by the energy and power this band creates here. Everything about it is captivating to me. The more I read about this band, too, the more I like them. I hate to say it, but Pitchfork did a pretty cool feature on them. Good read, I recommend it. I also like their musical philosophy on Facebook too.

    One more thing: my only issue with this band is that my instinct tells me that they’ll more than likely be a one album wonder. It’ll be interesting to see where they go from here. But hey, let’s enjoy this album for what it is, right? Great album. 2013 rocks… so far!

  11. I 100% agree with you David Mania Worthington. Monomania is definitely the album this article should have been written about. I can’t remember how I found out about Savages, but I remember playing some songs off their blog about six months ago. I was definitely thrilled about them and I have to say, their debut is a bit underwhelming to me. Certainly no Sleater-Kinney or Sonic Youth to me. I’m not saying Monomania is, but it is certainly a better, more interesting album, beginning to end. Opinions, of course. I just feel like people are getting a little too into the hype and letting it hide the fact that the album isn’t quite as thrilling as we thought it would be. I can’t wait for them to (hopefully) really blow some minds next album though. This week definitely belongs to Deerhunter though.

    • Silence Yourself personifies the quintessential idea of what surrounds the typical Stereogum AOTW personality. It lies just beneath the radar of immediate popularity, yet once you expose yourself to it becomes the rather obvious choice.

      Now, Monomania is a great album, for sure, and anything Deerhunter does could be worthy of this almighty weekly honor, but there is no mistaking the fact that Savages are by far the charismatic pick of the week. If anything, based on the AOTW parameters, I’d even put it behind Mikal’s album, too, which is also obscenely good.

      Great week of music.

  12. I haven’t listened to any of their songs yet, but I already love these guys for telling people to put their fucking cellphones away and be present for a few minutes.

  13. Thankful to be hearing this for the first time. Also thankful that nobody can see me jumping around the living room. Thank you, savages. Thank you, windows shades

  14. Was especially waiting for your AOTW selection this week for some reason, and knew the obvious choice was going to be Savages. It’s as striking a debut as The xx album was, and its antichrist at the same time. The influences run rampant, from the obvious Souxsie/Sonic Youth to even early U2 & Boy, and at the most surprising moments throughout the 11 tracks. It’s a wound up post punk album that rolls out like a concept album rather than the typically isolated, pounding, individual track style associated with the genre. Deeply arresting to an almost uncomfortable extreme, each band member contributing so uniquely to the swirl of bottled rage that when blows, it feels overdue. It’s guttural rage paired with dark, brooding contrast. Needless to say, a must buy. I’m already excited for what their second album will give us. I just hope they can handle the pressure of what I’m sure will be a speed train to popularity.

    Take note also…this week was the beginning of a insane amount of mind blowing albums to be released over the next month or so!

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  16. Tell me all about myself. No, I don’t think I will silence.

  17. great sounds
    [img]http://tinyurl.com/c7l9ck6[/img]

  18. I’m loving this album. Had it pre-ordered through Amazon for about 2 weeks and ever since it came I haven’t been able to stop listening to it. Only a few bands have debut albums which have captured my attention from the first listen as much as this one has. Matador always signs the coolest bands and Savages are no exception to that. Glad Stereogum gave it album of the week honors!

  19. Every time I hear anything from this band I wonder what all the bands they ripped off their sound from think about them? Seriously, as I said the last time the Gum tried to hype them, there is absolutely nothing original about this band.

  20. Four chicks giving it all!, I like it loads, Silence Yourself is A banging debut album. Superb live as seen at Coachella 2013 festival.

  21. The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads. (sorry for being anal but come on)

    Also I agree. Savages is some serious business.

  22. I have only just got around to hearing this. Excellent album, with She Will being the standout track for me.

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