Before a lick of music is heard from London’s Savages, it’s pretty clear the experience is going to be intense. From the menacing just-try-to-fuck-with-us album cover to the little girl getting scolded during the John Cassavetes intro, there’s no miscalculating the atmospheric intent. But with Savages, it’s not just façade. Their debut LP, Silence Yourself, kicks off with “Shut Up,” which is easily one of the best opening tracks on a record this year. Ayse Hassan’s taunting wobble of a bass line uncaps the grenade, and the band doesn’t ever let up, playing as if they can’t let up.
Hassan is a secret weapon, treating the bass as a lead, melodic instrument, adding a pair of brass knuckles to every pulverizing riff, of which guitarist Gemma Thompson provides many (give “Strife” a listen if you need some proof). And Jehnny Beth’s wail comes across like she’s Grace Slick without the peace and love, fronting the Sex Pistols. When she sings “If you tell me to shut up/ I would tell you to shut up,” you fear that’s the least she’ll do. Yet, the fact that the band is comprised of women seems to get in the way of how blisteringly tight they are, which is somewhat shocking given what a heavy debut this is. Females or not, this is dangerous music filled with desperation, and also plenty of confrontation. They are post-punk perfection 20 years late, seemingly arriving at just the right time, but to call them Siouxsie clones would be a grave mistake. In fact they’re as far from one-dimensional as a band can come.
Sure, there’s the abrasive “Husbands” and the pure punk of “Hit Me,” but Savages don’t have to only play loud or fast to be haunting, and songs don’t have to be two-minutes and out. Tunes like “Waiting for a Sign” and “No Face” are stretched out with Thompson’s distorted textures, while “Marshal Dear” somehow manages to be dark, pummeling and beautiful. Like old-school punk there’s a gang mentality here, where music is the message and tension isn’t just felt, it’s seen and heard. And Savages dare you to not pay attention. – Mike Randall