A. Savage - Thawing Dawn

by Mark Moody Rating:8 Release Date:2017-10-13
A. Savage - Thawing Dawn
A. Savage - Thawing Dawn

You can take the boy out of Texas, but you can’t take the Texas out of the boy - or so it goes with most any relocation story you can think of.  Andrew Savage (here operating as A. Savage as he opts to do) of post-punk heroes Parquet Courts takes a solo turn on Thawing Dawn.  Hailing originally from Denton, Texas, Savage wears his roots on his sleeve here with many of the songs flavored by pedal steel, Western themes, and even donning a pair of cowboy boots on the cover.  This is not a country record by any means, but the flavoring adds a texture that his core band has not ventured into before which makes this enough of a departure from the norm.  Whereas Parquet Courts' last album, Human Performance, moved towards a cleaner more muscular sound, Thawing Dawn, recalls the fuzzier/buzzier moments of Content Nausea like ‘Slide Machine’ and ‘Uncast Shadow of a Southern Doubt’, and that’s just fine with me.  The solo album provides another interesting trail to follow through the wilderness regardless of where the band goes next.  

Working with members of Woods, Psychic TV and other bands, Savage has committed to tape a series of songs he has written over the years, with ‘Phantom Limbo’ credited as being the earliest (and most countrified) track here with the dreamy line “there’s a point to life nestled in your eyes”.  The album starts off though with one Hell of a story telling epic as Texas singer-songwriters are known for (Townes Van Zandt, Joe Ely, Robert Earl Keen and on and on), though this one takes place a bit north of there.  ‘Buffalo Calf Road Woman’ is about as an expansive sweep of a story as you can get, spinning the tale of manifest destiny in terms of hard fought prairie economics.  An entire review could probably be written on this one song, but suffice it to say it’s a three minute tale of the pillage of the American west on par with the plunder described over Bob Dylan’s much lengthier ‘Isis’.  How Savage crams so much into such a short span is a wonder - leading with water, sun, and earth coming together to activate the grain of the prairie; the arrival of white men worshiping money with their own image on its face; devastation of the Native American tribes through “alcohol and isolation”; and the hoarding of gold, oil and ultimately water.  Relief comes in the form of the tight alliteration of the chorus, "greasy was the grass grown by the rains" that only hints at something sinister.  It’s as devastating a set of images as you are likely to find in song, with the title taken from the name of the Northern Cheyenne woman that as legend has it bitch slapped George Custer off his horse before he was killed.  Not to digress, but The Minutemen also covered this story in their forty second song snippet,‘The Punch Line’, with no less impact, so there is power in brevity as Savage also shows.

From that mini-epic, we go to ‘Eyeballs’ which could have been an outtake from Human Performance with thumpy bass and roller rink keyboards making for one of the most energetic tracks here - “if I showed you my eyeballs maybe you could see I’ve been hurting inside”.  The next two tracks have more of the hazy Western feel that are the album’s hallmark, with the acoustic buzz of ‘Indian Style’ being another highlight.  The song is littered with many turns of phrase showcasing Savage’s sharp wit and poetic ear with lines like “I’ve texted you to say I’m sorry, am I though?, and what about?” evoking the ever disappointed hopeless romantic that is the subject here.  Savage’s languid croon of a chorus fits the mood of the song perfectly.  

The album meanders through some different styles from this point.  It goes from the guitar skronk of the seven minute ‘What Do I Do’ (which wouldn't be out of place on a Parquet Courts album) to the closing ‘Thawing Dawn’, being its own mini triptych of styles cycling back and forth and borrowing the keyboard chords from ‘Eyeballs’.  The end of the last song closes with reference to Savage’s own songwriting technique as if he has no choice but to marry up disparate ideas:  “Of all the pieces I’ve combined, still the cruelest mixture yet, Is the thawing of the dawn, and the hardness of regret”.

Aside from the strength of the opening four songs as complete pieces and the opportunity to try out some different sounds, what truly stands out is the quality of the art of Savage’s songwriting.  I am not one normally swayed to poetry, but sometimes it just smacks you in the face.  As Bob Dylan is a poet; as D. Boon was a poet; Andrew Savage is a poet.  And as his predecessors did, he will commit things to paper and put them in song and they will be so. 

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