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Savage Republic

 

Savage Republic
4x Box Set (Mobilization Recordings)
http://www.SavageRepublic.com

BY FRED MILLS

. . . and then God created the Savage
Republic. Circa early '81, in the
transverse utility tunnels beneath the
UCLA campus to be precise,
spontaneously combusting in a
post-punk/industrial clatter of guitar, two
basses, drums and scrap-heap percussion
-- Joy Division and Einstürzende
Neubauten colluding on the Can
songbook in a crowded, noisy Ethiopian
bazaar. Later adding keyboards, tapes
and assorted stringed things, SavRep
wound up lasting for four albums, eight
years and numerous lineup changes
(Sedona artist and guitarist for the group
Scenic, Bruce Licher, was the one
member common to each lineup). It left
behind a rather handsome corpse whose
twitching influence is still felt in the rock
underground.

That twitch is felt anew via four new
remastered reissues of Savage Republic's
studio legacy. 1982's Tragic Figures is
an artifact of feral intent, its mélange of
transnational sound at once owing to rock
tradition yet contradictory enough in its
synthesis to suggest the very term "savage
republic." Even the song titles themselves
held forth extant purpose: "Attempted
Coup: Madagascar" is all ominous bass
skronk and drum circle conjure; "Exodus"
is a frantic retreat of paranoid guitar
shrieks and skull-thwacking percussive
angst; the edgy, gear-grinding riffs on
"Machinery" are punctuated by drill-press
vocal barks worthy of The Fall's Mark E.
Smith.

Next came 1986's instrumental Trudge EP and the full-length
Ceremonial, here paired on one CD with the latter material presented as
it was originally conceived, also all-instrumental (the original vinyl edition
had vocals on several tracks). Again, titles perfectly forecast the music,
from the searing, pounding tribal psychedelia of "Trudge" and the violent,
dizzying churn of "Siege" to the serenely cinematic, distinctively
Morricone-esque travelogue "Andelusia" and the acoustic, Middle
Eastern-tinged "Mediterranea." These are easily Savage Republic's most
"accessible" moments and remain highly favored among fans.

But it's the tongue-curling Jamahiriya Democratique et Populaire de
Sauvage, from 1988, that, in retrospect, represents SavRep at
powers-pinnacle. Boasting an expansive sonic ambiance and tautly
wound arrangements, it burns from start to finish as a rock album (albeit
one industrially and ethnically flavored). As if to suggest just that, there's
even a surprising cover of Alternative TV's snarky anthem "Viva la Rock
'n' Roll." Amid extended forays toward the heart of the sun (the
shuddering, Floydian "Tabula Rasa"; the title track's supersonic
cyber-space boogie), pogo-dives into the mosh pit (the turbulent, at
times Stooges-like "Lethal Muse") and outright nods to the
aforementioned Joy Division and Can (check the Peter Hook-y bass line
and Damo Suzuki-styled vocals in "Moujahadeen"), Savage Republic
carved out a unique patch of turf whose exotic veneer masked the land
mines hidden a few inches below the surface.

The fourth and last studio album, 1989's Customs, was recorded in a
whirlwind and under stressful circumstances while the group was
temporarily stranded in Greece during a 1988 European trek. As such,
its rawer, more dissonant/discordant overall sound is daunting at times,
although there's a satisfying edginess in, say, the blurted vocals and
PIL-like sonics of "Sucker Punch" or the industrial-gospel drone textures
of "The Birds of Pork." One live bonus track, an improvised freakout
(and Steve Albini nod) called "Rapeman's First EP," is added to the
album, giving the listener a sense of the monumental sheet of noise the
band could erect in concert. (Two live SavRep albums were also issued,
in '87 and in '90.)

As per the original vinyl releases, the Licher-designed CD reissues come
handsomely packaged in elaborate hand-letterpress-printed Discfolios
along with complementary inserts; the albums are available individually or
as a slipcase-enclosed boxed set. Bonus tracks -- singles, compilation
cuts, instrumental mixes -- round out each disc.

Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore once noted that Savage Republic was
one of the great, underrated American bands. (Listen to portions of
1985's Bad Moon Rising or the official live SY bootleg from '86, The
Walls Have Ears, and you'll detect the influence.) These days, visionary
hyphen-rock outfits such as Mogwai, Bardo Pond and Godspeed! You
Black Emperor continue to carry the torch. But listening to this
transcendent four-CD assemblage prods anew the listener's primal
instincts into flickering awareness, like a Sisyphean journey into the heart
of some uncharted savage republic. The horror, the horror of it all -- viva
la rock 'n' roll.

phoenixnewtimes.com | originally published: April 18, 2002



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