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SAVAK - Rotting Teeth in the Horse’s Mouth

  by Adrian Janes

published: 25 / 6 / 2020

SAVAK - Rotting Teeth in the Horse’s Mouth
Label: Ernest Jenning Record Co
Format: CD


Outstanding fourth album in five years from melodic Brooklyn indie supergroup SAVAK who have hardcore roots

The edgy rock of ‘Vis-à-Vis’ kicks off this album, and from then on the vigour and intensity barely let up. It proves a typical track, in as much as the constants are great guitar interplay, energy-to-spare drumming and passionate singing. Singer/guitarist Sohrab Habibion grew up in 1980s Washington DC, and the influence of the hardcore scene of that time where he found his first musical home can still be detected in SAVAK. It’s heard in the perfect marriage of musicianship, intensity and subtlety which, though definitely in their own style, recalls Bad Brains. It’s heard even more in the strong vein of melodicism, reminiscent of Hüsker Dü (on the stomping dissent of ‘Listening’ guest vocalist Scott Mccloud summons a gritty Bob Mould timbre). Most melodic of all is Michael Jaworski’s invigorating ‘Aujourd’hui’. Propelled by fast acoustic strumming, despite being one of several takes on the difficulties of communication (“Easy to scream/So hard to say it/So hard to speak/When we’re not talking anymore"), it transforms into a hard-won celebration of persistence. In the absence of REM, this will more than do. With half the lyrics in French, if this blast of joie de vivre isn’t a hit in France I’ll eat my beret. The lyrical focus shifts between such personal tensions and the efforts to resolve them (further instanced by ‘Vis-à-Vis’ and ‘Exposure’) and wider reflections on social and political fault lines, as in ‘What Is Compassion?’: “Another city/Reduced to rubble/Assets sold off/Are we surprised?” ‘Bayonet’ examines what lies beneath (and the lies beneath) the enthusiasm for war memorabilia and victory parades, over Matt Schulz’s relentless hardcore beat. ‘How Many Duchesses?’ refers back to the Sarajevo assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that sparked World War One, as a kind of template for the pretexts for war (“How many archdukes/To fill the streets with blood?”), but also as a double-edged comment on present-day protests: “How much grace/To start a riot?/And how much nobility/Just to rise above?” Its layered sound of guitars and synth is one of the best examples of how consistently inventive the band are. A walloping bass and juddering drums evoke the resolve underlying ‘I Came Alive’, the tale of a middle-aged man trying to revive his lost youth for just one night. Yet the plaintive harmonies of the chorus suggest a search for something more lasting: “Won’t you please tell me what it feels like to belong?A brief moment of ecstasy can only last so long”. (Note the double sense of ‘ecstacy’ here, as with ‘nobility’ in ‘How Many Duchesses?’) The album concludes with the lower-key mood of ‘We’ve Been Disappearing’. In this heart-rending song the issue of communication is once more at the heart: “In the space/Between the words we chose/And the way those words were heard/We’ve been disappearing”, words finally overcome by a beautiful melancholic coda of organ, treated keyboards and mournful strings. In Habibion, Jaworski and Schulz, SAVAK brings together luminaries from several cult bands like The Obits. But with such a strong album, this band – named after the secret police from Habibion’s father’s Iran – deserve not to be the secret preserve of a few but enjoyed by many. It would probably have the wrong connotations to call SAVAK power pop (despite their melodic talent), unless it’s always kept in mind that here the word ‘power’ most definitely comes first.

Track Listing:-
1 Vis-a-Vis
2 Listening
3 Exposure
4 What is Compassion?
5 Aujourd'hui
6 Bayonet
7 It's Mutual
8 How Many Duchesses
9 I Came Alive
10 We've Been Disappearing

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