VIDEO REVIEW: Sean Nicholas Savage’s “The Rat”

Sean Nicholas Savage


Sean Nicholas Savage

If ever in search of a genuine weirdo, look no further than Montreal’s Sean Nicholas Savage. In conjunction with the release of his 11th studio album Bermuda Waterfall via Arbutus Records, Savage paired up with director Angus Borsos and dropped an eccentric little music video for his song “The Rat.”

In my brief history of listening to Savage, I’ve learned this: to hear him is to love him; to watch him is to ignite an obsession.

The black and white video opens with Sean in a corpse-like pose, weak light flickering on his bare chest and the roar of invisible surf scoring the image. Cut to a split screen of the wide-eyed man himself staring past the camera’s lens, his moniker in bold to the left of him. One would expect a washed-out and dreary ballad from a visual such as this, and yet thumping piano greets the ear instead. I’m hearing more Hall and Oates in this track than the somber dream pop I was anticipating.

A muffled voice croons that ubiquitous line of nearly every eighties pop song: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!

Our eyes finally settle on a direct shot of an alleyway resting between cement walls. Two partial orbs of light illuminate each structure with clinical brightness. The whole scene is as comforting as a coatless winter stroll through The Eastern Bloc. Savage, wearing only a drab pair of drawstring pants, stumbles between the concrete slabs with sloppy flamboyance; his movements teeter between gestures and dancing in the Morrissey tradition of physical vagueness. In fact my first viewing of “The Rat” immediately reminded me of Moz’s 1992 music video for “Tomorrow,” and I can’t imagine Savage has not been significantly influenced by The Smiths front man. He exudes the same boyish magnetism and ambiguous sexuality. His physique is likewise twinkish and emaciated, lending him an appearance falling somewhere between cover boy and malnourished prisoner.

The upbeat melody of the song is at conflict with not only the visual setting of the video, but also Savage’s lyrical content, able to simultaneously evoke sweet longing and bitter sarcasm. His performance in “The Rat” is at once bestial and soft, grotesque and playful. At one point he scales the two walls like a feral little creature and snarls directly at the camera like a belligerent chimp. I guess at this point I’ve narrowly escaped a pun including his last name.

“The Rat” is nothing sensational or groundbreaking in the realm of videography, but its perfect simplicity makes narrative virtually needless. The majority of it is shot in one take and comes off as entirely unrehearsed. Savage appears to be without any apprehension or self-consciousness; there is no forethought, no Ego, just Id. He is aware of the camera but in the same way someone is aware of his own reflection when they dance in front of a mirror. This kind of candid clumsiness is endearing and refreshing from an artist in his twenties; he’s not acting, he’s not trying, he’s just being.

And what a damn fine way to be.



TRACK REVIEW: Sean Nicholas Savage “Empire”

Sean Nicholas Savage


Few people can boast the creation of 11 studio albums by the time they’re 28.  Quebec’s own Sean Nicholas Savage, who will officially enter his late twenties at the end of the month (happy birthday Sean!), absolutely can.  What’s even more impressive than the sheer volume of Savage’s output is that he’s only been recording since 2008.  As a prolific staple in the Montreal indie scene, Savage has been represented by Arbutus Records (home to Grimes, Doldrums, and Blue Hawaii) for the last five years, and hasn’t wasted a moment since his initial signing with the label.  Following 2013’s Other Life LP, Savage releases Bermuda Waterfall on May 13th, and I suspect he’s already churning out new ballads for the next record.

“Empire” is the vulnerable core of Bermuda Waterfall.  A sorrowful track that bridges contemporary minimalism and eighties sentimentality, it is the kind of song that multiplies its infectiousness exponentially with each play.  Commencing with the twinkling chirp of keys, a patient but weighty bass line, and an unobtrusive snare beat, Sean’s clean voice chimes in with the darkly romantic phrase “We held each other in the empire of hate” that quickly comes to characterize the narrative.

His vocal style is one that is so familiar it’s impossible to recognize where you’ve heard its doppelgangers.  On the higher end of the audible spectrum, it glides between trembling, shrill, and soft with genuine ease.  This is a sensitive singing niche-one that could be butchered with cheesiness were it attempted by another artist.  That isn’t to say schmaltzy music hasn’t influenced the song; easy listening and corporate muzak rush to the mind’s forefront when hearing “Empire” for the first time.  It certainly has its roots in mid-80’s sap rock, but it subdues those elements to the most tasteful degree as opposed to satirizing them.  What could have been rendered ironic is instead painfully sincere, a quality that marks all of Savage’s music.  He writes as if meekly exposing a raw wound to a wolf pack, wincing and hoping for the best.

Isolation is another recurring feature in the annals of the artist’s recording history, and there is no shortage of it on this track. It is just too perfect that as he sings the line “Kissing myself, holding myself / As if you were, somebody else” he’s harmonizing with himself.  This kind of lyrical/formal continuity reflects the skill set of someone who’s been writing music as many years as Savage has been alive.  Likewise the thematic desolation of his words compliments the sparseness of the song’s composition beautifully. 

Savage is the kind of songwriter who has the ability to sate his listener while still inspiring a gluttonous hunger for more – kind of like watching butter settle into hot toast and spreading on three layers more, despite having plenty in the first place.  Given the combination of his talent, youth, and compulsive need to create, I expect to be slathering on much more of Sean Nicholas Savage in the near future.

Check out “Empire” below: