YES, AND… Savages

Savages 2

On their second full-length, he hipster-approved musicians settle the question of whether or not they are merely a simulacra of good things – or the real fuckin’ deal. Hint: it’s the latter.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Around about 2013, the buzz on Silence Yourself, the Savages’ first incendiary album, centered around whether it was original enough or whether it mined a set of early 1980s influences — Siouxie, Dead Kennedys, Joy Division — without adding anything fresh. The band was allowed, in a lot of quarters, to get by on sheer force and presence, the invisible “it factor” that makes an ensemble good in whatever format is chooses to play in. Encouraging reports from the UK group’s South By Southwest performances helped to reinforce that notion, as did a subsequently released 12″ EP and a monumental video for the track “Fuckers.”

But the question remained, was Savages really as good, as important, as exciting, as it sounded? Or was it a simulacra of good things, only compelling to those too young to be familiar with the real item?

Savages 1-22

For me, the new Adore Life, just released by Matador, settles the question. Recorded at RAK Studios in London last April with producer Johnny Hostile and engineer Richard Woodcraft, the raw intensity, channeled through rigor and discipline, is still there, but the songwriting is far more varied and interesting. The subject matter, which before was a kind of politics wholly abstracted from personal experience, has become more idiosyncratic. There’s a sense of easy, swaggering ownership of their sound, from the sawtoothed guitar riffs to the pounding rhythms to the yelped and tremulous, vibrato-altered descants. Savages have settled into a demanding aesthetic, found its boundaries and started to push at them. The difference is additive, rather than a change in direction. This is a “yes, and…” kind of record.

“The Answer” opens with a blistering onslaught of guitars, a rackety clamor of drums, but a surprisingly catchy vocal hook, a surprisingly affirmative assertion that “love is the answer.”  The song gives up not one bit of Savages austere, propulsive power, but it slips in a will o’ the wisp flash of vulnerability and connection. Similarly “Evil” rides a sway-backed no-wave riff over urgent, unsentimental ground, yet its plea “Don’t try to change, don’t try to change” seems more tethered to real-world need and co-existence than anything on Silence Yourself.

In retrospect, the debut feels like a manifesto of self-determination thrust out onto the world; Adore Life opens inward, susceptible, woundable, but ready to engage.

Savages vinyl

Silence Yourself had its “Marshal Dear,” a slow-paced torch-sung anomaly tucked in at the end, but Adore Life brings these softer, slower impulses to the fore. The title track is one of them, its full-throated, nearly jazzy vocals hedged in by blistering feedback and creeping bass. “Slowing Down the World” is another, the rock mayhem kept to a simmer against slouching balladry.

In fact, there’s a whole lyrical mid-section to this album from the title track (recently performed live, above, on Jimmy Kimmel) to “When in Love,” that feels more ruminative, less confrontational than the previous album. And the kick is that these songs aren’t a letdown or even a respite, but another form of intensity.

With Adore Life, Savages have built on the visceral, gut-shock impact of their first album with stronger songs and more varied writing. It’s an impressive step up for an already promising band — one that makes you even more eager to see what they’ll do next.

The band: Ayşe Hassan (bass), Fay Milton (drums), Gemma Thompson (guitar), Jehnny Beth (vocals, lyrics). Below, watch the “Shut Up” short film from 2013 by Giorgio Testi (who also directed the “Fuckers” clip.)

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