I personally refuse to look up what a “chillwave” song is, but if I had to create my own definition of the genre, it would resemble the album “Thawing Dawn,” put out late last month by the label Dull Tools. The album is the first solo project of Parquet Courts frontman Andrew Savage under the moniker “A. Savage.” Rather than being characterized by a new stylistic direction or a turn towards experimentalism, this is an album full of songs that could easily exist just outside the periphery of Savage’s previous bands’ sounds. Many songs feature a steady, unassuming drum and guitar that take a back seat to Savage’s conversational musings. There is more than enough depth to the lyrics if you look for it, but this is a perfect record to zone out to. In an interview this summer about the album, Savage explained the genesis of many of the songs on the album, saying, “A lot of the songs on the record are songs that I’ve had around for years that didn’t find a proper home in any band that I was in. I tried them out in some cases, and it didn’t work. Or I felt like they didn’t work.” On “Thawing Dawn,” Savage’s poetic lyrics are given center stage to shine in all their acerbic, sardonic and laid-back beauty.
The album opens with “Buffalo Calf Road,” a biographical retelling of the Native American woman responsible for defeating General Custer in the Battle of Little Big Horn. It is the perfect vehicle for Savage to go into full storyteller mode while also being the only point on the album where Savage’s lyrics don’t look inward. “Wild, Wild, Wild Horses” takes an eerie turn, as Savage’s voice reaches an almost comatose level of calm while declaring his devotion to a lover. The winding “Ladies From Houston” embarks on a strange journey that feels like a hazy dream, filled with a rotating cast of characters and an ever lurking sense of danger. It is the slowest song on the album, but even at seven minutes, it never feels like it drags. The final song on the album, “Thawing Dawn,” sounds like a few different songs in one, including a bass-led ballad, an organ backed guitar solo reprieve, a fast-paced piano tune and then ending with Savage’s voice alone against a wailing piano. It’s hard to keep track of the call-backs to earlier songs; the changes are abrupt enough that even after several listens, they still surprise. It’s by far the most experimental song on the album, almost as if Savage needed to get all the ideas he had lying around onto the album at the last minute. He even seems to admit as much with the last lines of the song, “Of all the pieces I’ve combined / Still the cruelest mixture yet / Is the softness of the thawing dawn and the hardness of regret.” The song itself is one of the album’s best, and it is very much an encapsulation of the way in which this album is an anthology of Savage’s life.
Savage may now be best known for his work in Parquet Courts, but to fully understand how this album came about, you also have to look further back to his first band, Teenage Cool Kids. Over the course of three albums, TCK went from an indie, pop-punk sound that arose in the late 2000s (see: P. S. Eliot) to a sound much closer to what is found on “Thawing Dawn.” “Denton After Sunset,” a song like “No Fragments Reach” from the last Teenage Cool Kids album, very much showcases Savage’s talk-singing drawl set against gentle guitars. That album came out in 2011, just a year before the first Parquet Courts album. That album also marked the end of a chapter in Savage’s life; Savage moved from his childhood home of Denton, Texas, to Brooklyn, New York, where he has been ever since. Parquet courts is considered a New York band (some might even say the last great New York band), though their sound — an art-y, noise-rock take on Woody Guthrie folk songs — is a blend of the sounds of Savage’s two homes. In Parquet Courts, Savage sings in a blunt manner that if slightly terser and rhythmic, could be seen as a precursor to the triplet-styled rapping made famous by Migos (songs like “Stoned And Starving” and “I Was Just Here” are the most obvious examples, with the former even including the now classic Migos call-and-response structure).
With the wide time frame in which each of these songs came together, they are in many ways a culmination of Savage’s earlier works. Songs like “What Do I Do” incorporates both the noise-rock elements of Parquet Courts albums and the ability to craft a melody of Teenage Cool Kids. For the uninitiated, this album can act as an entry point into the works of Andrew Savage, while for others, this is a welcomed addition that ties them all together.
Artist: A. Savage
Album: “Thawing Dawn”
Label: Dull Tools
If you like: Fred Thomas, Parquet Courts, Leonard Cohen, Woody Guthrie
Best songs: “Ladies From Houston,” “Thawing Dawn”