Review: Savant – Artificial Dance


Savant was the project of K. Leimer, a Seattle based ambient pioneer who spent most of the 80s ignoring pretty much everything that anyone else was doing in favour of creating his own musical language, a collage of homemade synths, slowly evolving tape loops and fragile vocals.

Having already released an excellent retrospective of Leimer’s solo tracks, RVNG INTL are now concentrating on Savant – the ‘group’ that was to all intents and purposes Leimer, occasionally accompanied by the various musicians he’d encountered in local experimental and post-punk groups. Among them were ambient composer Marc Barreca, John Foster (founder of Op Magazine – the experimental music publication), Jim and David Keller of the New Flamingos, and their bandmate Alex Petit. As Savant, Leimer pursued a different course to the sprawling, pretty soundscapes he’d released under his own name, instead branching out into wildly off-kilter rhythmic experimentation that touched on everything from West African drumming to brittle punk-funk bass.

The results, compiled on Artificial Dance from his debut 12” and album, are a revelation. 3 tracks in and we’re hit with The Neo-Realist, a comic, nasally narrated tale of encounters with street evangelists that takes the snotty charm of Jonathan Richman and combines it with a hypnotic roll of bass and drums that could have easily been pulled from Eno & Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. It’s 7 minutes of strange dancefloor genius, and proof, if any were needed, that the 80s was a decade of remarkable musical invention.        

Further in, the sheening layers, strange, Amazonian clicks, and reverb drenched vocals of The Shining Hour are reminiscent of the warbling palette Animal Collective and Ariel Pink have done so well with in recent years – Leimer was coming up with this stuff largely by himself, unaided by a computer, some thirty years previously. Being such an auteur had it’s downsides – it’s fairly understandable that Savant would remained a largely obscure concern in the 80s – as well as contending with limited pressings and low scale distribution, the majority of the record sounds like joyful ceremonial field recordings captured in the ayahuasca outer reaches. It’s little surprise that the rest of the world would need the best part of a half century to come close to catching up.

So all credit to RVNG for releasing this reissue, and allowing a genuine maverick a chance at the recognition he deserves. For anyone interested in alternative music as a crucible of vital, fascinating ideas, Artificial Dance is pretty much essential. Even now, whilst some aspects of Leimer’s creative flamboyance has been absorbed into the mainstream – his sample stutters have become a hip hop staple – there is a whole world of sound on here that remains strange, beautiful and unique. At times it feels like we still haven’t caught up.  

Artificial Dance is released on RVNG INTL on September 4th. More info over here