Savages have declared war. Disturbances wrought by our “modern world” threaten to obscure our connection with our Selves. This is a war on distractions. The mission statement of Silence Yourself, worded in dour prose on the album’s cover, is clear: expose society’s illusions; liberate yourself from distraction; live again. If you listen closely, you will hear historic manifestos of Guy DeBord and Jean Baudrillard echoed in these life-affirming cries. And you might hear music too.
The “message” (ironically) detracts from what is actually a really great band. But the principles eclipsing the London quartet’s unique musicianship and dynamic also shape them. Focus and awareness are paramount for the group as instrumentalists. Gemma Thompson’s razor-edged riffs, whetted by the furrow of Ayse Hassan’s bass lines, whittle opener “Shut Up” and standout single “She Will” in a methodical fashion. Jehnny Beth’s unnerving shrill is the commanding center piece.
Each track here is a deliberate exercise in concision. In that regard comparisons to post-punk architects like Wire and Siouxsie and the Banshees are not without merit. The common denominator is the minimalist approach to composition: make it poignant, lean, no-bullshit. Each instrument is voluminous and lucid. There is no time wasted, no sound or word without purpose.
The manner in which Savages reject distraction is double-edged. There is a taste of violence in this dissent of a kind of bourgeois excess, contained in the album’s fight-or-flight intensity, but there is also something zen-like about rejecting distractions in order to find onesself. “Dead Nature” ends the first side with a silence as morbid as it is tranquil. “Marshall Dear” closes the album with a rich sonic palette; Beth’s smokey piano draws you in before the chorus bursts with a forboding shockwave – “silence yourself,” she howls.
The album is on the offensive not only ideologically but sonically as well. The punishing crunch of “City’s Full” recalls the guitar work of a Raw Power-era Stooges. Beth’s haunting voice is imbued with the satanic tremor of a young Diamanda Galas. Likewise, her candid, lyrical images of the taboo are meant to challenge. Beth draws from the public humiliation of a pornogrphic actress and subverts the victim complex on the masochistic “Hit Me.” The album’s neurotic bent makes it more disquieting than cathartic, but such a concession is characteristic of transgressive art.
Silence Yourself is not meant to be easygoing. It does lose momentum at times when it takes itself too seriously (“Waiting for a Sign”). And moments like these, though few and far between, raise the question of whether the album is all spectacle or if it’s the real thing. Since Savages have cultivated such a politicized aesthetic, it’s hard to divorce the concept behind the art from the art itself, but Silence Yourself delivers if you are willing to submit to its unflinching authority.
Plugging away since 1999, The National finally hit mainstream success with the release of their 2010 album High Violet. Of course, this entailed their first world tour, but in the new documentary Mistaken For Strangers, it’s only the backdrop for the relationship between lead singer Matt Berninger and his younger brother Tom, who had no idea that these short videos he was shooting would turn into a public document of their troubled, if still loving brotherhood.
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