Album Review: Savages - Silence Yourself

Album Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra

There is a short monologue printed on the front cover of the Savages debut LP Silence Yourself. It serves as both a synopsis for the record and a conceptual becoming. You can read it below:

It's a pretty powerful little mantra. In the post-Internet age, it is near impossible not to constantly be distracted by the noise and the flickering light of media saturation and LED deception. Furthermore, with so much information at our fingertips, much of our ability to truly care or have real opinions has been replaced by a wanton desire to take part in everything and claim everything as our own. The Stepford versions of our lives on social networks, the constant conversational one-upping that we can't live five seconds without - it's all noise. But when all is stripped away, and the comfortable gaul of affluence is taken from us, these things all disappear with it. Savages lead singer Jehnny Beth has mentioned that the band's name is inspired by the classic books of societal degradation, like Lord of the Flies. It makes sense too - their lyrical imagery strives to provoke the human mind into being something it already is, buried deep down inside, under layers and layers of media brainwash. Savages is exactly what the indie scene needs right now: a step away from the shiny promotional limelight of the social network frenzy and a quiet step into isolation. Here, as their mantra says, "perhaps we would start hearing the distant rhythm of an angry young tune - and recompose ourselves". Silence Yourself is all about recomposition.

The thing is about Savages, all of the above would be almost enough to have us sold on the record regardless of its sound. But the fact that Savages also host a brutal post-punk sound straight out of 1979 and some of the best instrumentation in recent years proves that Silence Yourself is more than just an idea - it's a cleansing wave of mutilation that could turn the scene on its head. And for all this, Savages will undoubtedly be one of the biggest new names of the year.

There's no mystery in the world why Savages has chosen to use the dark post-punk of the late 70s as the musical platform for their pathos. After all, punk was a scene - not unlike today's - where the noise and the image and the directionless energy often overpowered the impact of the music and made it difficult for the listener to comprehend the deeper meaning. As the guitars got darker and the drums and bass became more menacing and the tempo slowed ever so slightly, the band up on stage could glare down at onlookers with a refocused mindset and demand an unfaltering attentiveness. The ballads and the dirges and the ominous power of bands like Joy Division demanded something more than their peers - they fashioned a musical experience that had its fingers in spirituality and personification. There was no way to come away from them unaffected.

In their call to silence, Savages pursues a similar goal. Musically, they take their roots from the veterans of the art, but Savages post-punk is not an emulation. Just like their heroes did before them, Savages' musical style is a direct response to the state of the scene. These songs are crafted out of naked, raw anger and don't depend on much refinery for their trial by fire. That being said, producer Johnny Hostile did a truly remarkable job on this record. The mix and the balance literally could not be any better, and thusly, when the band says in the packaging that "this album is to be played loud and in the foreground", they aren't messing around. Note a note is made in excess. Silence Yourself is the summation of four fantastic musicians and artists pummeling you with sound in a perfectly balanced and composed way. Every pop of the snare, every pluck of the bass, every screeching guitar slide, and every crash of the cymbal - nothing is out of place, and simultaneously, everything hits you right up front. Silence Yourself is a brutal, noisy record, but it sounds incredible.

As fantastic as the instrumentation is, no listener could walk away from the record unaffected by the insane power of frontwoman Jehnny Beth. Whether she's howling at the moon at the end of "I Am Here", chanting like a madman on "Husbands", or singing the sultry jazz melodies of "Waiting For a Sign" and "Marshal Dear", she does it with inhuman prestige. But there should be nothing surprising about all of this. Beth doesn't do anything to detract from the rest of the band. Rather, her lyrics serve to give us concrete interpretation of the band's atmosphere and mystique. Put together, these four women collaborate on a common level unlike any band we've seen in some time. Each thread to fit the larger picture is pristine.

To go song by song and try to hash out interpretation according to the album's theme would spoil the fun for everyone, but trust us when we say that you will find yourself in Silence Yourself. It may be the version of yourself that you try to avoid through use of social media or other measures of anti-isolation, but it is this haunting version of yourself, buried deep down, that the band wants to bring out. This is perhaps most apparent in the brutal "No Face", which serves as one of the album's lyrical and musical highlights. "You argue everything like a bird who's never learned to sing. Oh darling, are you free when you doubt?" In our culture where cynicism has convinced us that argumentation and doubt are conversational defaults and give us our nature, Beth calls it like it is. "Don't worry about breaking my heart, because you have no face." Brutal? Yes. Savage, even? Absolutely. But Savages aren't afraid to call a spade a spade and give their listeners good reason to reevaluate their view of their own lives. It takes a serious amount of bravery for a band on their first record to tackle such a heavy topic, but Savages have the introspection and the musical prowess to back it. Silence Yourself is not a record to miss.

Silence Yourself is out in the US on May 7! You can pre-order the clear vinyl via Matador now! Visit the Savages website to stream the entire record. The band played a Seattle show just a couple weeks ago, but they couldn't come back sooner. Until then, let Silence Yourself weigh heavy on your heart and mind, and even heavier on your stereo.

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