Colossal riffs. Deeply important eyebrows. It’s got ‘cult classic’ written all over it, but is strangely unloveable
London quartet Savages take music dead seriously, like it’s an exam. Since the release of meticulous B-side ‘Husbands’ last summer, the all-female foursome have played their cards close to their chest, choosing interviews carefully and taking their androgynous brand of post-punk with the industrial spirit of Magazine and Gang Of Four to venues nationwide. French frontwoman Jehnny Beth has moulded herself into the demonic, possessed spawn of Ian Curtis and Siouxsie Sioux. Their callous soul has sent such cold shivers up the world’s spine that the polar icecaps have likely stopped melting. Savages enter the world so fully realised and neurotically confident they’re met with a unanimous round of applause.
In theory then, debut album ‘Silence Yourself’ is flawless. Just see its monochrome sleeve – even their eyebrows look deeply important. The studied angular riffs, motorik beats and flair for tension-and-release form a confrontational soundtrack to urban friction. Every distorted note sounds under control. Savages could manipulate the screech of fingernails running down a chalkboard and make it sound melodic. The hypnotic rhythms of tracks such as ‘I Am Here’ entrance you until you agree that this isn’t a mere album, it’s a work of art. How crafty. “I am here/No more fear/No more dark shadows”, wails Jehnny, as if comforting a lover, eventually climaxing with quivering shrieks of “I am here! I am here! I AM HERE!” like a malfunctioning C-3PO. It’s as relaxing as a Hitchcock murder scene. Jehnny’s vocal histrionics are similarly patterned throughout: ‘She Will’ (“She will! She will! SHE WILL!”), ‘Husbands’ (“Husbands! Husbands! HUSBANDS!”) etc. The former’s guitar line is the most colossal of 2013 so far.
The sequencing alone screams instant cult classic. Opener ‘Shut Up’, for example, begins with an excerpt from John Cassavetes’ film Opening Night. The middle is marked by ‘Dead Nature’, a dystopian two-minute instrumental that knocks and echoes like the inside of a grandfather clock. Final track ‘Marshal Dear’ ends proceedings with piano balladry and – zut alors! – a jazz brass solo! It ticks every box. And yet something doesn’t connect.
Savages are so hysterically overprotective of their image that music is their only message. Problem is, if you break its spell ‘Silence Yourself’ often doesn’t say much. Scratch its surface and you’ll find ‘No Face’, for example. “You have no face/You have no face/You! Have! No! Face!” Who has no face? A man? A potato? Who knows? Savages isolate themselves with their clever-clever humourless intensity. As with some modern art, you may find ‘Silence Yourself’ leaves you whispering, “I appreciated it, but I didn’t love it.”