At the heart of the debut album “Silence Yourself” by the young and already quite acclaimed band Savages rests a tension between noisy, cathartic release and quiet, serious reflection. This is fruitful ground for rock bands of a certain type. In its most basic form (loud, quiet, loud) the Pixies built an entire genre on it. Listeners of a certain type want their music messy, loud and overpowering, while at the same time they want at least a certain level of thoughtful moments and intellectual — dare I say nerdy — thrills.
At first glance, “Silence Yourself” might seem to be just an example of ironic titling. Listen to one of Savages’ high-energy guitar attacks in the songs “I Am Here” or “She Will” and, between righteous fist pumps, you may say to yourself, “Aha, I get it; they reference silence but play real loud. Irony, sure.”
But there’s more to it than that. Savages are a serious band, the kind that publishes the occasional manifesto and issue sternly worded but polite injunctions against using your phone during shows. Divorced from the music, the tone and contents of these manifestos can feel very art-school-earnest, in a way that makes practiced ironists like myself uncomfortable, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The benefits of muting that kind of critical self-consciousness might in fact be one of the things the album title is getting at. Art rock manifestos are one thing, but Savages have the pounding post-punk energy and skill to back them up, or at least ground them.
One definition of the very casually defined genre “post-punk” might be music that takes punk-rock energy and applies more rigorous production. And that’s a pretty fair description of “Silence Yourself.” The guitars and bass lines are intense but precise, and the songs never break down into the raucous wails and squalls of feedback that you might think are coming.
They’re also willing to literally quiet down, from time to time, like on the sparse and minimalist “Dead Nature,” which is made up mostly of tolling bells and sounds that bring to mind clockwork mechanisms, the whole thing sounding a little like the inside of a grandfather clock; or when, right near the end of the album’s final song, a clarinet solo wanders in out of nowhere.
The extent to which anyone has to care about any of this is of course questionable, and none of the theorizing is necessary from you, the listener, in order to appreciate the sheer visceral thrill. But if this kind of self-seriousness from bands leads to more records that are on this level, I’m willing to put away my phone for a while and listen.
• Simon Sizer is the legal and obituary clerk at the Yakima Herald-Republic. He’s constantly prattling on about music, so we gave him this column. It runs every two weeks.