A. Savage :: Several Songs About Fire

Several Songs About Fire, the second solo release from Parquet Courts frontman A. Savage, is an LP in the truest sense. There are 10 tracks across two sides, forty-five minutes and change. There is a picture of the artist on the cover. The songs are strong and solid, at once distinct and of a piece, shot through with themes and ideas that recur and refract from one moment to the next. These are tried-and-true strategies, the hallmarks of one of the very finest mediums ever conceived: the album. Don’t fix what ain’t broke.

Savage, a classicist, knows better. He isn’t interested in novelties or distractions, but rather the hard realities of the world in which we wake up each morning, the ironclad laws of physics and finance. Fire as an album is many things: laconic, romantic, nostalgic. It also a set of songs deeply attuned the economic pressures of this particular, peculiar moment in time. The bank account is no Grecian urn, but that doesn’t make it any less suitable an artistic subject. “Remaining balance/The largest sum yet,” he sighs on album opener “Hurtin’ or Healed,” “Final notice printed boldly/I’m breathing fast and reading slowly.” The song, a fluent full-band waltz, builds its exquisite self out of the mean, meager moments we all try to remember to forget, bleeding gums and glimpses of wildfires on TV. It’s one of the most beautiful things he’s ever committed to tape.

Savage workshopped the record on tour with Cate Le Bon last fall, iterating on the material from night to night in his opening set. Le Bon appears here on almost every track, her stately art-rock sound blending with Savage’s stentorian delivery, a smooth shot of oil to the balance out the vinegar. “My my, My Dear” makes the most of their collaboration. The song is downbeat and propulsive, driven by bass guitar and a persistent hiss somewhere between cymbals and static. Savage carries the melody in his voice, stressing the late syllable in four foot lines—that’s iambic tetrameter, for all the English majors out there—that hypnotize, lulling, pulling you deeper, before they resolve with a huge guitar lick, fat as a ribeye.

The country-western warmth of Thawing Dawn still shines through in spots, but Fire is, despite its name, a colder record. Autumn pervades: trees bleed leaves, the sky is dark at five o’clock, Thanksgiving prayers are offered. This isn’t distant music, however. Savage is a gracious host, greeting and sweeping you inside with his ruddy, robust voice, a tool that only seems to get better—deeper, richer, weirder—with age. The focus here is on the man and his words, the arrangements making way for language in a way Parquet Courts songs rarely do. Call it uneasy listening.

Still, it wouldn’t be right to think of this as an acoustic record. The sonic palette is Savage’s broadest yet: “Riding Cobbles” is a sort of degrowth nursery rhyme, “Out of Focus” a cockeyed take on bossa nova, sax and salt-and-pepper maracas straight out of Joāo Gilberto. There are even rock songs—a couple, anyways. “Elvis In The Army,” the platonic ideal of a track two, kicks things into gear as Savage contemplates a departure from his adopted hometown of New York City: “Riches and roaches come and go with ease/When’s my cue?”

“David’s Dead” finds him in a similar headspace. A swaggering slice-of-life obit for both a neighborhood and a neighborhood character, the song sees Savage reckoning with the wave of capital that has washed away so much of what made the city a place worth living: “Corner building used to be something else/And now it’s finally sold/Then it’s eight stories high/In two years time.” But David’s as dead as the scene, and Savage is “tired as hell of living life this way.” So he stopped. Savage recorded Fire in Bristol, England; today he resides in France, far away from the streets where he once scarfed Swedish Fish, roasted peanuts, and licorice.

As Trieste was for Joyce, New York has been a given for Savage, a site of both salvation and damnation, a source of inspiration and frustration in equal measure. Few other contemporary artists have been so in tune with the heart, the history, the vibe of their physical environs. In an age of dislocation and digitization, when life itself is mediated and monetized, Savage has remained defiantly offline, analog, invested in reality. He still is, but he will be doing it somewhere else. These are the last cantos of his New York years.

More than anything, Fire is a breakup album, a portrait of a failing relationship between a man and his city. As it had so many times before, New York offered itself as a safe harbor, a place an artist could make a life. In return, it received a chronicler, another in a long lineage of warrior poets, someone who saw the city clearly and loved it in spite of—because of—its many flaws and foibles. Now, in exchange for the chains and trappings of modern urban living, it has lost him.

It was a bad deal. Sweetgreens and skyscrapers don’t write rock songs. | i grant

Only the good shit. Aquarium Drunkard is powered by our patrons. Keep the servers humming and help us continue doing it by pledging your support via our Patreon page.