Savages – Silence Yourself

First, the bad news: Savages’ debut LP is significantly overrated. However, the hype machine overheated so furiously on this one that Silence Yourself remains a compelling listen and an impressive initial volley.

Many young bands launch with a bundle of bracing songs, then struggle to convey their full essence in a studio setting. This London quartet has inverted the playbook – Savages have already mastered their sonic dynamics. Fay Milton’s drumming is tribal and confrontational, Ayse Hassan’s bass appropriately guttural. Guitarist Gemma Thompson throws shards of noise rather than notes or chords, in the style of early David J or Andy Gill. And vocalist Jehnny Beth is a seething force to be reckoned with, even if listeners of a certain age will find it impossible to purge the image of Siouxsie Sioux from their consciousness.

It adds up to a severe, proto-goth vibe in the neighborhood of Bauhaus’ In the Flat Field or, more accurately, the Pop Group. All of the above are good signposts; the problem is that the line to Savages’ antecedents is too clearly audible without incrementally advancing the genre. Silence Yourself sounds great, but too often the band succeeds on attitude and sonics more than standout songcraft. It feels like Savages have been percolating as the Next Big Thing longer than a top baseball draftee toiling his way through the minors. In reality Savages have existed for only 18 months – still a longer germination period than many bands are afforded these days – but apparently spent most of that time refining the “concept” rather than writing rock solid melodies.

Of course there are exceptions. “She Will” packs the album’s most memorable hooks without sacrificing urgency – televised live performances of the track have proven even more incendiary. Silence Yourself loosens up markedly in its second half. “No Face” and “Hit Me” even hint at garage stomp, and closer “Marshal Dear” upends the formula with graceful piano and clarinet touches that only heighten the tension.

Absent all the crosstalk, Silence Yourself is a worthwhile if somewhat pretentious addition to the parade of ’80s niche revivalists. The challenge will come in refining the material for album #2. Many more bands have learned to solve the production riddle than have suddenly developed songwriting chops.

Silence Yourself