Savages’ debut album Silence Yourself is the album of 2013 for me so far, a dense record that is three parts post-punk to one part feminist rage to one part everything else, with a broader range of influences than you’d think a 39-minute album of tight songs could possibly include. They are in many ways the anti-Elastica.
Silence Yourself opens with one of the two tracks getting some airplay on XM, “Shut Up,” which not coincidentally is one of the most accessible songs on the album. Starting with a heavy, driving bass line, “Shut Up” picks up a staccato guitar riff that brings in the first of many notes that harken back to Gang of Four, but also bringing to mind Romeo Void’s New Wave hit “Never Say Never.” Lead singer Jehnny Beth (previously half of John and Jehn) has a tighter, angrier delivery, bringing desperation to every track, not in the sense of despair but in the sense of someone who must be heard at any cost, which comes through even more strongly on the next track, “I Am Here.”
The other song you’re likely to hear a little on alternative radio is “She Will,” maybe the most traditional rock song of the album, with a reverb-laden guitar riff over a quick, intense drum beat, letting up on the throttle for the verses. The lyrics that seem to describe a woman taking charge of her sexuality, but shifting to something darker which I interpreted as the reaction of a woman who’d been raped or assaulted and is now stuck in a downward spiral as she tries to recover, with that desperation reentering Beth’s voice as she shouts “she will” repeatedly during the chorus. That contrast, a melodic yet heavy lick set underneath dark, angry lyrics, is the most consistent theme on the album and lies beneath most of the disc’s highlights.
The brief “Hit Me,” clocking in at 1:41, opens with a riff that sounds an awful lot like the opening lick in Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher,” but with lyrics that point very much in the opposite direction, apparently an homage to the adult film actress Belladonna. Other tracks bring back some of the earliest grunge artists, before the term was co-opted, bands like Mudhoney and Green River that claimed lo-fi as an ethic (but probably also did it because they didn’t have the cash to be hi-fi), with heavy distortion and loud walking bass lines. Savages slow it down on three tracks, succeeding most with the sludgy “Strife,” and least with the album closer “Marshal Dear.”
I admit to being a skeptic of the whole “riot grrrls” marketing angle from the 1990s and early 2000s, which tended to trivialize any of those artists’ attempts to make serious feminist arguments, but Savages aren’t yet facing that kind of pigeonholing, perhaps because the music itself is good enough to stand on its own. It’s potent, hard-hitting stuff, righteous and clean like Gang of Four, but bearing some of the musical twists and production qualities associated with later post-punk acts like Joy Division or Killing Joke – to say nothing of the too-obvious comparisons to the Slits. It’s intense start to finish and deserves far more attention than just a little airplay for the two singles.