New bands rarely come on stronger than this. And with their debut LP Silence Yourself, the London post-punk quartet Savages show us that they’re not pussyfooting around. The band’s guitarist, Gemma Thompson, started developing the idea for the all-female group almost a year before it was formed, and if this album is anything to go by, the time and effort gone into the project has certainly not gone to waste.
The album starts with an excerpt from John Cassavetes’s film Opening Night, with some quiet droning feedback layered over it, giving the record a tense, cinematic atmosphere from the get-go. It links them to other Cassavetes-obsessed bands like Le Tigre, whilst also giving it the kind of high-art feel that can make something a modern classic. And when the sound clip cuts out into the roaring bassline of “Shut Up”, you know that this album’s going to be a intense experience.
The band work a very gothic style into their music, taking pages from the books of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division and making it harder, heavier and scarier. The instrumental “Dead Nature” is downright terrifying, and the violent post-hardcore of “Hit Me” is thoroughly spine-chilling stuff. Jehnny Beth’s vocals are completely arresting, channelling the great female punk vocalists like Poly Styrene and Siouxsie Sioux – and when she’s mantrically screaming “I AM HERE” at the top of her lungs, it’s clear that she and the rest of her band aren’t going away any time soon.
The lyrics generally are dark and depreciative, whether it’s of you, sluts, modern love, or the singer herself. “City’s Full” berates people for making “sissy pretty love” and upholding ideas of unrealistic, perfect beauty, with Jehnny singing “I love the stretch marks on your thighs / I love the wrinkles around your eyes”. “Husbands”, on the other hand, makes the idea of marriage seem like a Satanic ritual; something so parasitic that makes the singer say “Oh God I wanna get rid of it”, and start shrieking the title in repetition to the point of being possessed. It’s hard to say whether the band’s female identity suggests there are ideas of lesbianism in these lyrics – but while bands like The Slits and The Go-Go’s still had a girlish playfulness about them, Savages are completely sexless in their style and behaviour – and their music is all the more intimidating for it.
Silence Yourself is hard, gritty, distorted, messy, and exhilarating. And like the best of artful post-punk, it’s a cohesive statement from start to finish. The album’s full of pummelling riffs, like the bassline on “Strife” or the Sonic Youth-esque guitar lines on “She Will”. And after the climactic run of “Hit Me” and “Husbands”, “Marshal Dear” mercifully slows things down for the album’s finish, with tasteful touches of piano and an enchanting bass clarinet solo to close.
Savages are the salvagers of exciting post-punk, and their all-female shtick comes across more as an aesthetic rather than a gimmick used to sell the music. Silence Yourself is an outstanding debut even if you don’t take the band’s gender into account, and it’s the first great coalescence of style and substance we’ve seen in a long time.