Husbands, the B-side of the first single by Savages, makes us dream of what it must have been like to have been around to hear, in real time, the debut releases by Public Image Ltd, Magazine, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division, to feel, as those incredible records hit the shops, that unearthly power and sense of a transmission from a satellite reality. They are an all-girl four-piece, barely together for a year with their debut gig as recent as January 2012, who remind you of that post-punk moment when a new kind of female musician emerged, a reminder of the feral energy and cerebral vigour that we first experienced via Siouxsie, the Slits et al. Not that they exploit the fact of their sex: if anything, the singer has the intensity of an Ian Curtis as much as anyone from the canon of female performers and she compels, like Curtis, without having to resort to anything obviously theatrical and pantomimic. It’s all in the simplicity and the stare.
Blink and you’d think you’d heard it all before, which is why we didn’t write about them before. And so congratulations should go to the players who make, through their contributions, the medium, 56 this year, seem utterly new. Musically they’re incredible – jazzily fluid and exploratory but tight, not sloppy and grungy. The rumbling bass has a motorik drive, and the drums back it up skilfully. They have the rhythmic insistence and violent precision of the key Manchester bands, and the dishevelled looseness of the Bristol ones (if the Pop Group were riot grrrls …), and when the guitar slashes into view it does so with ferocious force. Image-wise, they’re thrillingly intriguing, too, both live – where they’re bathed in black and white – and in interview photographs, where their arty cool (they’re serious about Dali, Monk and Celine) comes through.
Husbands is the only official track so far and it is astonishing. It is instantly recognisable as something that you would term post-punk but it manages to be totally in tune with the radical spirit of that era by a mystifying act of alchemy. It’s like the best bits of the best bands of that period, condensed and unleashed. It’s remarkable how easy it seems to do, so hard when you’ve been waiting so long for someone to do it this right. “It’s all in the final hour,” shrieks Jehnny Beth, who has just woken up to find the titular groom lying next to her suddenly looks like a total stranger. “Saw the face of a guy/ I don’t know who he was, he had no eyes – his presence made me feel ill at ease.” Urgency, dread, alienation, foreboding – all the greats are invoked on this dark, dramatic and devastating debut. We can’t wait to hear other stuff by them, of course, but for the three minutes and four seconds of Husbands our faith in the form is restored, and really, we can’t ask for more than that. • Paul Lester THE GUARDIAN
Please note folks! • This is a co-headline tour – therefore on the night either SAVAGES or PALMA VIOLETS could be first or last to take the stage.
PALMA VIOLETS • FaceBook
Palma Violets, who have been together for only a matter of months and have been playing a series of secret gigs around their home area of south-east London, are one of those bands about whom a lot of fuss will be made in certain quarters of the music press. The kind of band that will elicit declamatory headlines with biblical overtones alluding to Stone Roses song titles, suggesting that – finally – here comes something that will wash away the ordinary opportunists who’ve been clogging the system for too long and bring back all the things that have been missing. They will be received like heroes, messiahs, even hailed as the resurrection.
We saw them last week supporting Alabama Shakes at Glasgow’s King Tut’s – where Alan McGee famously had a quasi-religious epiphany of his own on that fateful night in 1993 when he stood at the front of the stage during an early Oasis gig and decided, there and then, to sign them to Creation – but we were a little underwhelmed. We couldn’t see anything particularly unusual, let alone radical or revolutionary, in their look – four 19-21 year olds dressed relatively neatly, in jackets and jeans, with haircuts that could feasibly appeal to fans of the Libertines’ shabby chic – and we struggled to hear anything in their sound that might make a difference. But then, that’s why Geoff Travis, boss of Rough Trade – the label that has just signed Palma Violets based, rumour (soon to acquire the status of legend) has it, on one song – is a genius. At the very least, it explains why he runs a company involved in nurturing raw talent. Either that, or it confirms he is able to turn something less than spectacular into a commodity that a lot of people want.
Nick Cave, Warren Ellis and Bernard Butler are three such people. They were among the audience members who turned up to see the band play at the Great Escape over the weekend. Butler has even, this early on, been mooted as a producer for them. Getting the right producer might be the move that makes the difference. We talk a lot in this column about the amazing new hip hop and electronic musicians-technicians who operate solo, many of them from America, some from the UK,. But there’s nothing to say a traditional band couldn’t hook up with such a person, who could help transform their music into something extraordinary. It used to be expected that four adventurists would join forces with a studio visionary to find new ways to present vocals, guitar, bass and drums. From the Beatles with George Martin to Joy Division with Martin Hannett and Radiohead with Nigel Godrich, it was a matter of course that a producer would be used to turn base matter into gold. Listen to Joy Division live – they were staggeringly powerful, for sure, but it took Hannett to turn that driving energy into something that would endure for decades. Crucially, he helped them break with tradition.
Palma Violets need a Hannett. Like Joy Division early on, they are being added to that ancient dark-rock lineage that began with the Doors and the Velvets. Meanwhile, the singer’s voice is being compared to Jim Morrison’s and Ian McCulloch’s – with some of the shrieking fervour of Wu Lyf’s Ellery Roberts – and the keyboardist makes a shrill noise that recalls exponents past (Ray Manzarek) and present(-ish; basically, whoever plays organ for Spiritualized). The sound rarely roams from garage-rock-psych and strives to achieve the epic and intense.
Just as much as the music, there is excitement about Palma Violets signalling the Return of the Band as Gang, four lads who grew up together and have that raffish, roguish air of Albion miscreants about them, with frontman Fryer and bassist Jesson, who wields his fringe with violent flamboyance (warning: berk alert), as a new Pete’n’Carl. Anyway, the whole thing is steeped in convention, their performance and music a series of gestures handed down from generation to generation. Maybe that’s one way of extending rock’s life, and a viable one at that. Whatever, Palma Violets are one of those back-to-basics types that will make some listeners sigh “Ah, at last. We haven’t had one of these for a while”, as if having a new version of something old and familiar is something to treasure. We’re not going to damn them, just leave you with a sense of vague puzzlement that This is What People Want. • Paul Lester THE GUARDIAN