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Songs We Love: Savages, 'Adore'

Savages (L-R): Ayşe Hassan, Fay Milton, Gemma Thompson and Jehnny Beth
Dustin Cohen
Courtesy of the artist
Savages (L-R): Ayşe Hassan, Fay Milton, Gemma Thompson and Jehnny Beth
Savages, <em>Adore Life </em>(Matador 2016)
/ Courtesty of Matador Records
Courtesty of Matador Records
Savages, Adore Life (Matador 2016)

Savages took some heat for being overly severe on Silence Yourself, but for listeners swept up in the fire of the quartet's 2013 debut, that relentless seriousness felt like a cornerstone of the band's raison d'etre. As song after grinding song pummeled rather than implored, the repetition — moderate tempos pivoting into acceleration; loping, resonant basslines under distorted guitar; vocals that stretched or broke melody — became a way of focusing the listener's attention while still eluding its grasp. It also pre-emptively confronted the undermining banality of asking a band why it was so serious. Savages wanted to be heard, not adored.

So it's appropriate that when the band finally slows way down on "Adore," the song that gives the sophomore Savages album its title, it is in service of a question pointed back at the audience. In each of the song's verses, singer Jehnny Beth wonders at the possibility of paths not taken and of compromises declined, before asking, "Is it human to adore life?" The song employs elements familiar from earlier Savages songs — Gemma Thompson's static bursts of guitar and the measured heaviness of Fay Milton's drumming twisting around the gravitational center of Ayse Hassan's bass — but on "Adore" they stretch out rather than hurtling forward, letting doubt creep in and weigh it down.

This effort to slow the clock is both an acknowledgement of that effort's futility and of its absolute necessity. "Adore" is split in half: the clear-eyed and calculating first three minutes, with Beth measuring the distance between regret and satisfaction, and the crystalline, ecstatic build to a close. "I adore life. Do you adore life?" Beth repeats like an incantation as her bandmates conjure a storm behind her. In that query, you can hear a longing for eternity, an elegy for the departed, and an embrace of fragility and frailty as the fundamental sources of human strength. It's a serious question.

Adore Life is out on Janury 22 on Matador.

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