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Resound Presents: A. Savage in Austin, Texas at Mohawk on October 14, 2024.

A. Savage

“I imagine myself playing these songs in a small club that is slowly burning,” says A. Savage of his second solo record, Several Songs about Fire. Born in 1986 in Denton, Texas and raised around the newspaper where his parents both worked, by 2012 A. Savage became a headline of his own as the co-frontman of Parquet Courts. After more than a decade in New York, Savage has left the city and the United States, marking his exit with a masterpiece of maturity and a worthy corollary to his first solo venture, 2017’s Thawing Dawn.  “Fire is something you have to escape from, and in a way this album is about escaping from something. This album is a burning building, and these songs are things I’d leave behind to save myself.”

The songs themselves were marked by constraint even as Savage drafted them, sculpted in part in the bucolic, nocturnal hush of rural England, where he and Jack Cooper (Modern Nature, Ultimate Painting) worked deep into night trying not to wake Cooper’s sleeping daughter. “Every song had to be able to be stripped down to just an acoustic guitar,” says Savage. “If you can distill a song into a single instrument, it’s much easier to understand it.” The intimacy of these tracks are refracted by the presence of some of his closest friends, among them Cate Le Bon, who listened to Savage at work on what would become the album during a US tour in 2022. “It was really special to see them come into existence and to then be in the studio working on them with him,” explains Le Bon of working toward his vision, rather than within a band. “The beautiful friction of shoulder to shoulder was replaced by something else.”

In its recording, too, the album became as urgent and intuitive as a response to disaster.  Produced by John Parish on a 1” 16-track in just ten days in Bristol, studded by the support of Cooper and Le Bon as well as saxophonist Euan Hinshelwood (Cate Le Bon), drummer Dylan Hadley (Kamikaze Palm Tree,White Fence), and violinist Magdalena McLean (Caroline), the album is a devotional study in tradition—and something all Savage’s own. “No decision was possible to defer,” says Parish. “I loved erasing good, but not great takes.” Le Bon describes the song as having “such a strong character that they would naturally dictate what was needed from everyone.” The end result is tantamount to psychic odyssey, with “Le Grand Balloon” suggesting a South American lounge where the guiro respirates into a damp crowd; “Elvis in the Army” placing us in a subterranean venue where the livid, ratifying cymbal raises the room’s blood pressure; and “Mountain Time”, evoking an austere waltz playing in a desolate house, returning those listening to life. “He’s enormously knowledgeable, but his music is never reverential,” says Cooper.  “He’s a one off… the most dynamic person I know.”

The record’s singular irreverence is stitched together by Savage’s outsize gifts as a lyricist and observer, a quality Parish calls “an emotional openness guarded by a laconic wit.” Worrying questions of wealth and poverty, self and other, Savage displays the poet’s gift of knowing when to narrate and when to vanish, leaving the listener to their own emotional privacy rather than instructing them how to feel through vertiginous inversions of instrumentation and lyrics. In “David’s Dead” —a song memorializing his longtime friend and neighbor David Lester, who was homeless and would ring Savage’s door for conversation late at night—he spurns the sepulchral or elegiac. Instead, the song travels on a poppy, conversational refrain and the joyous half-life of a vibraphone, a better tribute to someone who Savage remembers as having little restraint, and a better reminder that death is made of life.

Influenced by the disparate vantage points of Sybille Baier and Townes Van Zandt, Savage joins a canon of songwriters whose project is a constantly dilating aperture and perspective. Opening the album with “Hurtin’ or Healed,” where he stoically observes “in the mirror someone’s crying/ with the same eyes as me,” Savage slowly marries the bleak drift of secular life with the grandness of antiquity. If in that track he describes the “gods held my heels,” in another he decries the selfsame gods “who don’t exist or care.” In rendering the signage of laundromats and threats of debt collectors as glistering and totemic as the scope of mountains, rivers, seas, and skies, Savage finds hopes and curses in equal measure—inviting the listener to consider a life in which attention is a religion, and the body is the divine text. Like the survivor of exodus, Savage says: “I don’t really remember the process of writing. I just see the evidence of it when I reopen a notebook.” Several Songs About Fire stands as an act of nearly libidinal rebellion against a moment when so much of life is the blue light of screens. This is an album whose topic is no less than the sublime: the moments in which a sensory experience becomes a holiness or possession of its own, and the self floats above it.

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