Oh to gain a peek at Savages’ DVD collection. Perhaps VHS would be more appropriate, given their scratchy aesthetic and apparent fondness for cult classics. The entirely female London quartet arrive on a wave of hype but there is calm before the storm, the first 50 seconds of Silence Yourself given over to an excerpt from Opening Night, a polarising John Cassavettes film from 1977. The moment is foreboding even devoid of any context and there’s an important question that may provoke an uneasy answer.
That it gives way to Ayse Hassan’s driving bass makes sense. Frontwoman Jehnny Beth will likely be hailed as the most exciting riot grrrl to happen along in quite some time but Hassan provides the heartbeat throughout. Music like this lives or dies on the tuning and arrangement of rhythm and Hassan is on point from the second she kicks ‘Shut Up’ off properly, further shining on the vicious ‘No Face’ and the disturbing, brief garage stomp that is ‘Hit Me’.
Whether Silence Yourself revives post-punk or not remains to be seen. What is immediately clear is that it’s a strong debut that harkens for a time when analogue instruments and dark stages dominated. It calls back but doesn’t crib; a trick that can only really work with genuine spirit. ‘I Am Here’ and ‘City’s Full’ are hardly unique but as slices of pissed-off judgement calls, you’ll never doubt them. Same goes for ‘She Will’, a driving Interpol-esque number that disguises venomous sentiment with dynamic guitar lines and thrusting drums.
The brooding ‘Husbands’ proves even more sinister, the breathless repetition of “Husbands! Husbands! Husbands!” evoking memories of giallo classic Suspiria and its unsettling score. It’s a little scuzzier than its initial appearance as a B-side last summer, when it prompted mentions of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division and Public Image Ltd, to name but three. Comparisons, then, seem unavoidable, and that’s before you even get to the ‘all girl’ thing, so let’s at least think slightly outside the box. Karen O comes to mind, though a very specific iteration of her, namely the 2003 Fever to Tell version when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs seemed a lot more dangerous than they do now. Tracks such as ‘Husbands’ and ‘She Will’ feel like distant cousins to the likes of ‘Pin’ and ‘Date with the Night’, the same manic energy and sense of controlled chaos found within.
If ‘Husbands’ is Dario Argento, then baroque closer ‘Marshall Dear’ is distinctly David Lynch. A ‘Wicked Game’ style guitar, a damaged lounge lizard and a moody, odd saxophone outro successfully eke out a heightened sense of noir. Beth’s siren call of “Silence yourself” sees her sounding out the first word like a child learning a foreign tongue, content to be incorrect, the twist of “see-lens” a possible nod to Lynch’s Mulholland Drive and its final, mystifying line – “Silencio”. Given that the band played Lynch’s Paris nightclub of the same name a few months back, it’s a safe enough bet.
Yet, reading between the lines isn’t something Savages seem all that interested in. Maybe there’s no great mystery to be found here and it’s simply an engaging rock record that hits its targets with gusto. After all, as they plainly inform us as part of a rather lame modus operandi, all in capital letters so that we can’t miss a thing: “SAVAGES’ SONGS AIM TO REMIND US THAT HUMAN BEINGS HAVEN’T EVOLVED SO MUCH, THAT MUSIC CAN STILL BE STRAIGHT TO THE POINT, EFFICIENT AND EXCITING.”
To that strangely blinkered end, mission accomplished. Then again, a twist would be fitting. The characters that populate Silence Yourself scrape by with difficulty. Savages think we have it easy, that music should challenge, not soothe. It can do both, but if you draw a line in the sand, it’s best to bring courage to your convictions. Silence Yourself is either a direct instruction or an invitation to rebel. Debut albums rarely get away with such provocation. This one is different, but it’s worth remembering that WU LYF’s was too.