Review Summary: A controlled explosion of taut art-punk brilliance that high-wires between 1980 and 2013 with enviable ease.
There are several important things you must do before listening to Silence Yourself, the debut album from London four-piece Savages. Lie flat on your back, turn out every light in the room then disconnect yourself from the Internet, from your phone, from any form of social interaction. Do all these things and the subsequent blistering 38 minutes will be amongst the most claustrophobically rewarding of your aural year.
Savages want you, me, all of us to just shut up. During live performances they have repeatedly bemoaned the unfortunate modern ubiquity of handheld photographic devices. Their message is anachronistic and simple: open your ears, not your mouth. This manifesto is writ large on the album cover, a chillingly prescient and poetic address urging us to hear more and talk less.
All of this is noble, but the message will only truly resonate if the songs that accompany it are any good. Thankfully, there is little trouble in this regard: these are eleven tracks of minutely tempered rage and paranoia.
Something I should have mentioned at the beginning: you would be wise to (re) acquaint yourself with some early 80s post-punk before diving into Silence Yourself. The reference points are hardly oblique: the guitars that open 'Shut Up' come closer to recreating the intimidating glory of Pink Flag than Wire themselves have yet managed. Post-punk, though, is an ugly and inaccurate description to apply to these songs. They belong much more to the world of art-punk than the murky soundscapes of Joy Division and their early-2000s acolytes.
Close your eyes for long enough, then, and we could very well be back in 1980. 'I Am Here' rushes at breakneck speed over an inimitably punky rhythm section before descending into distant, dissonant squeals. If Savages are derivative then they certainly ape their influences with enormous skill and no little style: 'Strife' bristles with barely-controlled menace before Jehnny Beth's glamorously doom laden vocals arrive to propel a future genre classic to even greater depths of misanthropy.
Silence Yourself is an album stripped clean of fat, fluff and frippery. Every track is meticulously engineered and placed for a reason: 'Waiting For A Sign' arrives at the perfect moment to slow affairs down after that furious beginning, Beth's Siouxsie-esque histrionics imbuing these dischordant guitar lines with something approaching apocalyptic melancholy. At nearly six minutes it's the longest song on the album: Savages' music is taut and lean but unlike those of Wire and their ilk these are fully-fleshed songs rather than noise experimentations.
It's a mark of the band's skill and economy that Silence Yourself only increases in quality and urgency as it enters its final third. 'She Will' is a high-water mark, full to bursting with squally claustrophobic intensity that fades suddenly and brilliantly to the silence of which Savages are so fond.
Of course, no review of this album would be complete nor justified without making mention of the quite astonishing single 'Husbands'. To stainless steel clean guitars a one word chorus rises to the point of mad insanity. Beth leaves the song hanging at the apex of that chorus, the whole terrifying structure perched on the edge of a crumbling punk cliff.
I've really only got one thing to say to you: shut up and listen to Silence Yourself. This is now and will be one of the finest records of the year.