My proposed topic for a TED Talk: 100 years in the future, long after we've all uploaded our minds into our iSingularity Pods, China has bought California and gluten has been outlawed, serious young bands will still be copping moves from Joy Division.
And understandably so. While the Manchester group didn't record very much music for reasons that have already been mythologized at length, what they did make created an indefatigable blueprint for how to sustain an atmosphere of cold dread without sacrificing rhythmic propulsion or melodic bliss. If a band wants to evoke feelings of despair and anxiety but while still occasionally making people dance (or at least sway wildly), Unknown Pleasures still offers plenty of pointers.
Post-punk is the vampire of music genres, and not just because the fans and bands mostly wear black. Influences and sonic reference points go in and out of vogue, but Joy Division, Wire, Siouxsie and the Banshees remain an undying influence, and will continue to be so for as long as artists want to turn their inner turmoil into grand drama and their jittery nerves into cathartic grooves. Which is to say basically forever, or at least until every art school in America burns to the ground simultaneously in a tragic incense mishap.
Which brings us to Savages. "She Will," the second single from the London quartet's debut album Silence Yourself, bites Peter Hook's bassline from "She's Lost Control" so hard that even Carlos D. would blush. Which basically means that it's a great song. Bassist Ayse Hassan understands how to do that thing Hook did so well with his instrument; on "She Will" her baseline grabs you by the collar and pulls you through the song, her pacing just off enough to create a growing sense of paranoia, but too insistent to let you run away. But just when things get almost too claustrophobic, the rest of the band pushes against her during the climax, everyone demanding equal footing for a second and everything going to hell gloriously. It's the most shocking moment on an album filled with tightly coiled anxiety, the sound of a band letting you know that they know the blueprint so well that they had to light it on fire just to keep from getting bored.
Savages are a band that knows how to work the erogenous zones of a certain type of punk aesthete, from the feral howl of early PJ Harvey to The Stooges' molotov riffs to the fuck-with-us-and-die scowl of April Ludgate. (This is the definitely the band her and Orin would form if things went sour with Andy Dwyer.) With their dry production, shattered glass drum hits and slow-moving bass moans, they often sound like a lost John Peel Session, or a band that would have played at the top of the second hour of 120 Minutes during the Dave Kendall days. They get the references right (though starting their album off with a John Cassavetes sample is laying on the good taste bonafides just a bit thick), but for as much as they recall that late '70s moment Rip It Up moment where musicians used the freedoms opened up by punk to see just what the rock format was capable of, the groups Savages resemble the most are Elastica and The Strokes. This might sound like a dis, but it's actually a high compliment.
"Their name is misleading, because for all the unhinged fury they summon up, their attack is highly refined, every snarl and shard in its exact place."
Elastica and The Strokes were two of rock music's greatest curators. Neither were praised for their originality, but both were aces at deconstructing their influences and patching them back together in a way you hadn't quite heard before. (And all three are also great at visual presentation -- Silence Yourself has one of the most instantly iconic covers in recent memory.) And all three knew how to use some of rock music's most unassailable archetypes to shield themselves as they dove headfirst in to the most primal subjects at the heart of rock 'n' roll: lust, boredom and loneliness. Like The Strokes' Julian Casablancas or Elastica's Justine Frischman, singer Jehny Beth is a romantic at heart. Like them, she also seems embarrassed by this, and surrounds herself with anti-social signifiers and unflappable attitude in the hope that you'll be too intimidated to notice that she's trying to find a connection, no matter what the cost.
So yes. You've heard what Savages do here before. But you've never heard it the way Savages do it. Their name is misleading, because for all the unhinged fury they summon up, their attack is highly refined, every snarl and shard in its exact place. Gemma Thompson's guitar burns like a signal flare in the darkness of "Strife," content to flash a few seething notes where most guitarists would feel compelled to fill out the blank space, while Hassan and drummer Fay Milton lock in to one of the most formidable new rhythm sections in recent memory, they're so insistent and tense throughout Silence that when pull back to languid crawl during the dirge ballad "Waiting For A Sign," it feels like an act of mercy. But Savages don't do control just to show off their complete command of mood and pace, they do it so that when the outburst finally arrives you're positively thankful for the reprieve. That they somehow make this a pleasure experience is proof that they know what they're doing.
Just as the musicians deal in precise, measures slashes, Beth favors clipped lyrical couplets, using a few boiled down phrases ("Safe sex/ Safe smile/ Waiting for the day you cry") to imply oceans of desire or frustration. Savages first gained blog heat last year for "Husbands," an instant DTF classic in which Beth concisely describes a connection so powerful, she's willing to destroy everything in her life ("Gotta get rid/ Of my house/ My bed/ My husbands") to taste it again. By the sound of it, she might enjoy the destruction part more than the sex.
A hundred years from now, government-mandated therapy sessions will help society shed its shame over primal desires, and thus there will be no more need for bands like Savages. Until then, look for more young bands to start coping moves from them.
Silence Yourself is out now via Matador.