All art has archetypes — those idealized forms to which all others must be compared. In the realm of post-punk bands, the definitive templates — Joy Division, Wire, PiL, and Gang of Four (among others) — each embody their genre’s jagged clash of punk’s DIY ethos with virtuosic musicianship, shrewd experimentation, and scathing cultural discontent. From a structural stand point, each one transmogrifies the basic, holy quartet of voice, guitar, bass, and drums into something unmistakably greater, the sort of songs that move even the most hardened cynic to remember: “ahhhh, this is what music is capable of.” It’s a sound that seeks to change the world, one sulking listener at a time.
On the rare occasions when a revivalist band taps directly into the mainline of that quintessential post-punkness, they become unstoppable (though Super Mario Mode doesn’t last for very long — just ask Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, or Yeah Yeah Yeahs about trying to top their debuts). With their ferocious first album, Silence Yourself, Savages finds that mythic vein and goes in deep. The London foursome never claim to be originators; one of their several mission statements goes so far as to say that the band is “not trying to give you something you didn’t have already, it is calling within yourself something you buried ages ago.”
They succeed not by reinventing the wheel, but by embodying its devastating geometric precision. Being an all-female band makes Savages’ triumph of aggression particularly intriguing, but by no means defines it. Instead, their superb songs do. Savages bear the introverted menace, physical magnetism, and arty vehemence of a band cast in the perfect post-punk mold, proving once again that when executed with the appropriate vigor, every revolution feels like the first.
In February 2012, the band’s stark, electrifying concert performance of “City’s Full” hit YouTube, accompanied by a link to pre-order double A-side single “Flying To Berlin”/”Husbands.” Since then, the buzz has grown exponentially for Savages, a project originally conceived as an outlet for French-born singer Jehnny Beth’s “more violent” songwriting urges and named after the societal regression described in Lord of the Flies and other apocalyptic fiction read by guitarist Gemma Thompson while growing up. “Husbands” spirals through a frantic, claustrophobic guitar riff before devolving into excoriating barbs of noise at the end of each bar, an ideal backdrop for Beth’s visceral distaste at waking up beside a man she doesn’t know. Everything about the song seeks to expel you, including the chorus: “God I want to get rid of it/ Get rid of it/ My house, my bed, my husbands.” And there it is. That last word, shrieked over and over again until you realize the true nature of Beth’s estrangement; this is someone she knows. In the face of the most sacred bond between man and woman, everything suggests — no screams for — a decoupling.
Silence Yourself plays on the same themes of entrapment, empowerment, and erotic energy. On “I Am Here,” Beth growls “I am shouldering you/ This is easy…/ Are you coming for the ride?” over a riff straight out of a certain Queens of the Stone Age’s song, sans stuttering cocaine reference. (It’s a pleasant surprise that Josh Homme, whom the band call “a modern day Elvis”, is one of their crushes) Over the heavy Sabbath riffs on “Strife,” Beth sneers: “They wonder how come/ I’ve been doing things with you/ I would never tell my mum.” “Hit Me,” which features the shocking line “I took a beating tonight, And that was the best I ever had” reads like a brutally sarcastic repudiation of domestic violence until Beth reveals it’s an actual quote from Belladonna, the porn star who infamously broke down crying while being interviewed by Diane Sawyer during a 2003 “Primetime” episode, then later claimed the show’s poor editing incorrectly portrayed her as a victim of the sex industry. “Hit Me” is Beth’s tribute to her carnal abandon. Is Savages in love with empowerment masquerading as debasement? Or the other way around? Like most things, it’s complicated.
Every gripping aspect about Savages — the spartan urgency of their songs, their arresting stage presence, and their prowess in conquering male-driven genres like post-hardcore, stoner rock, and metal — feels engineered to induce voracious Googling: Who are they? What are their politics? Sexual orientation? and of course, Which legendary post-punk band do they most remind you of? (If bassist Ayse Hassan’s work on “Strife” doesn’t make you think of Peter Hook’s on “Candidate,” nothing will.) Yet the very act of exploring and deifying Savages places you in violation of their manifesto — to ignore distraction, shut off your phone, and to look within yourself for answers you already know. Silence Yourself is a Statement album from a group who are delightfully cagey about where they stand. “Shut Up”, whose frantic, hair-raising guitar riff pays homage to Refused’s “New Noise,” feels like a call to arms even as Beth says “If you tell me to shut it/ I’ll shut it now.” In spite of that pledge, Silence Yourself is Savages’ refusal to do so and a scathing rebuttal against all subjugation. Far more than the shape of punk to come, it’s the shape of punk today.
During Savages’ February homecoming concert at the Electric Ballroom in London, a few crowd members get particularly pissed off at an antagonistic security guard who’s positioned right in front of the stage and acting like an asshole. Later on, an incensed Beth dedicates the show’s encore to all “the fuckers in your life” and genuinely entreats Savages’ fans in her charming, broken English: “You’re supposed to go home now and feel better about yourself!” Hassan’s clangorous bass and drummer Fay Milton’s snare thwacks out an angry, militant stomp. The short-haired, beautiful front woman marches defiantly in place, punching the air, and staring unflinchingly into the hundreds of eyes in front of her. With a simple, blunt mantra “Don’t let the fuckers get you down,” she gives voice to the crowd’s quiet rage toward the security guard, everyone like him, and everything in their lives that seeks to oppress them. Video footage later reveals she’s wearing a pair of black stilettos throughout the entire song, yet her balance remains perfect. She never once falters.
Savages – “Husbands” – mp3