Say what you may about their methods, but Savages are very, very serious about what they do. Their debut album, Silence Yourself, was essentially a treatise on information overload. They wanted you to take the title literally. In a world polluted with noises constantly grappling for your attention it was a reminder that, on occasion, it’s okay (necessary) to shut the fuck up and listen. It wasn’t hard to admire their idealism. Savages want to shake society out of its current paradigm. They’re not above use of force, but they’re also capable of persuasion.

All of Savages’ core tendencies have trickled into their excellent sophomore effort, Adore Life. This time, however, the proceedings are less self-serious, less inflammatory, and more polished, characteristics that may have augmented the shock value of Silence Yourself. That’s not to say that Adore Life’s pleasures aren’t as visceral, just less overt. 

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Rather than cudgel its audience into submission, singer Jehnny Beth, guitarist Gemma Thompson, bassist Ayse Hassan and drummer Fay Milton aim for different kinds of provocation. If you came to have your bones rattled, don’t worry. The opening salvo may be their most disorienting piece yet. “The Answer” is controlled chaos, like having a seizure in a straight jacket. Beth forcefully throws out short, clipped phrases amidst cyclonic, dueling guitars: “If you don’t love me/Don’t love anybody,” “Sleep with me/We’ll still be friends,” “I can see a bright future/Wish me luck!”

So it’s by no means a sonic reinvention; Savages haven’t abandoned the fundamentals of their corrosive post-punk sound, and you can hear them tinkering at the margins on several songs. On the buzzing, beleaguered “Evil”, they approximate a four-to-the-floor beat, even if it’s more likely to incite a riot than a dance party. “I’m trying to change the way your parents did it,” Beth squawks. “T.I.W.Y.G.” reverberates with industrial clangour, as Beth doles out the refrain (“This is what you get when you mess with love!”) almost as a punishment.

Though things become less showy after “The Answer”, Savages’ musicianship is sharp throughout. “Slowing Down the World” uncoils slowly, while “I Need Something New” operates with the nervous certainty of a lit fuse (“I need something new/I need you… I need something new/And you do too”). “Sad Person” would almost be upbeat were it not for the objective dispassion of the lyrics. Even on the muted finale “Mechanics”, the band’s grip on mood and atmosphere is absolute.

Adore Life explores some pretty discomfiting topics with neutrality, eschewing easy answers in favor of the grey that comprises 99.9 percent of reality. As a result, Adore Life conveys an emotional complexity that easily outpaces the expertly delivered but unilateral outrage of Silence Yourself. Beth utilizes repetition and silence to great effect, particularly when asking questions. “I adore life/Do you adore life?” she asks on the kinda title track. You can feel the weight behind her words, like she’s projecting with her entire body. These tactics are used confrontationally, as if to strip away any rhetorical element.

As a result, Adore Life registers as a much more conversational effort, even if the conversations are uncomfortable ones. By challenging their audience in such starkly interpersonal terms, Savages have pulled off an even more impressive trick. On Silence Yourself, they were shouting a rallying cry from the rooftops; on Adore Life, they’re shouting a foot away from your face. B PLUS

Originally posted January 19, 2016