Chicago based dreamwave/ shoegaze/ dreampop trio Savage Sister have released their 2nd, full album Speechless on Friday the 2nd of October. The album was made freely available for streaming throughout the subsequent weekend, and is the follow-up of the self-titled 1st album of 2013.
Savage Sister, founded in 2012, is the brain-child of multi-instrumentalist and frontman Michael Tenzer who is aided in his creations by otherworldly vocalist Chloe Lundgren and bassist Caitlin Klask. Tenzer’s main musical influences are in the lines of Loveliescrushing and Grouper, but Slowdive; My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins are also omnipresent throughout his work. Savage Sister take up quite a unique place in the shoegaze anthology in the sense that they take “ethereal” to the extreme and come up with songs that sound more like dreamy soundscape muzak than the usual guitar-based, noisy shoegaze that we are used to hearing. Compare it to the last phase in the work of painter William Turner, in which he became mainly interested in getting light, atmosphere and essence across. Same thing with Savage Sister: elements that overload the senses are subdued, washed out and diluted until what remains is a soul or essence of a song. An impressionistic soundscape from a “world in between worlds”…. like the slumber-world between sleeping and waking when you slowly lift your eyelids and the light and colours seep in and the voices of your dreams still ring in the distance…
I was a fan of Savage Sister the moment I heard “Little Claws” on the Efflorescence compilation by At Sea records (see archives) and have a definitive all-time favourite in their “Fortress”: which is probably the way that I prefer to hear Savage Sister. There is something so transcendent to their quality that it feels almost a religious experience sometimes. So yes, I was quite keen to see what the 2nd album would sound like: it seems a bit of a challenge to keep things interesting in what, ultimately, is a pretty undefinable genre. Despite the elusive nature of the music, I do detect a clear divergence from the first album (and EP’s). First of all, tones are much higher-pitched and the bass is less prominent which makes the album more “elated” and a bit less dark. Also, the song structures seem to be more dense: there’s less space and temperance. In “Speechless”, strings; funky drum beats and samples are much more prevailing than on its predecessor, especially on tracks like “Flaxen hair” and “Embody”. What I also noticed is that Slowdive and the Cocteau Twins are cited more often than before : “Hands in Flowers” sounds totally Cocteau and Cocoon, however gorgeous, reminded me a lot of Slowdive’s “Catch the Breeze”.
Highlights are the spectral opener “Phantom Vision”; the lulling “I could live in Ecstasy” and “Mirror Speak”. The first 2 are brief and clear examples of that awakening / epiphanic sensation: like being reborn. Rapturous, in that Tenzerian way. If it were up to me, these tracks should take much longer. Last track “Mirrorspeak” is, beyond doubt, my favourite: reflection and suspense go hand in hand here, like being in the eye of an electrical storm. I suddenly realized that I miss that brooding tension a bit. The tension and mystery that makes me love “Fortress”: waiting for the balance to climax or disintegrate, and just when you think it will, it calibrates back into place.
I suppose it all still sounds like Savage Sister, if I would have to describe the shift from the 1st to the 2nd album: the supernaturalism of the 1st is a more earthly one. “Speechles” has let go of earthly matters and feels more transmundane; celestial and more abstract than ever before. I guess it all depends on mood and point of view: to some the white light will be clarifying, to others it might be too blinding.