Sávila seem to operate on their own sense of time.
This week, the Portland cumbia-influenced band is holding the release show for their self-titled debut album. Originally, Sávila was scheduled for a March release. Though the bulk of the album was recorded last year, the delay isn't exactly surprising. With Brisa Gonzalez's mystical vocals, Fabi Reyna's otherworldly guitar and Papi Fimbres' expansive yet precise rhythms, Sávila's trancelike music exists not only outside of time, it exists outside of genre.
With a sparse catalog of released material, Sávila have already established themselves as a band to watch. The trio was founded by former Swan Island vocalist Gonzalez and Reyna, who is the creator of She Shreds magazine and a former member of La Luz. For years, the duo wrote songs together without any specific plans to record an album or for the project to gain any kind of traction. Then they asked Fimbres to join, whose work in Orquestra Pacifico Tropical, Sun Angle, Máscaras and a multitude of other bands has established him as one of Portland's most accomplished percussionists.
Based on just two recorded songs and the strength of their performances, Sávila have played opening spots for local legends like the Thermals as well as national names like Deerhoof and, earlier this year, placed at the top of WW's Best New Band poll.
Until now, their reputation has been built on their spell-inducing live shows. That makes the release of their album a high-stakes benchmark—it's not easy to transfer something so delicate and experiential onstage into a recording.
Now that it's finally here, Sávila was worth the wait. It's a record that rallies and cries, soothes and comforts, and establishes the band among the likes of Chicano Batman, Khruangbin and Portland's own Y La Bamba, which builds on the DNA of American music to create folk that feels truly alive and relevant.
Sávila take their name from a plant that proliferates throughout South America and is known to English speakers as aloe vera. The plant has tough, thorny tendrils and thrives in adverse conditions. But it's mostly known for its healing properties—if you've ever stayed too long in the sun, you've probably used sávila to soothe the burn.
Like the band's medicinal namesake, Sávila's bright sound—influenced by everything from American pop to R&B to tejano, cumbia and chicha—acts as a balm for the ache of modern existence.
On their debut album, songs like "Beauty," "Uplift Me" and "Carnival" shimmy and shake with life. Reyna's surf-drunk guitar riffs buoy Gonzalez's resonant voice. Reyna writes with the swagger, intricacy and care of Johnny Marr or Neko Case, creating licks that burrow deep in the ear and stick around long after the record ends. Fimbres' arsenal of güiros, maracas and cowbell create a robust foundation for Reyna's hollow, haunting guitar and Gonzalez's rich vocals. One song leads effortlessly into the next, creating a single complex tapestry.
Gonzalez sings in both Spanish and English. Her lyrics are both poignant and pointed, instructive and nurturing. On "Uplift Me" Gonzalez sings, "Dreaming for our lives/Watch me thrive/Dreaming for our lives/Now's our time." The use of "dream" seems a direct reference to the current administration's constant attack on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy and the Dream Act, but Gonzalez delivers the words like a much-needed salve more than a retort.
It's tempting to obsessively decode Sávila's social-political subtexts. And to a certain extent, that seems intentional. On "Beauty," the album's second-to-last song, Gonzalez sings, "Find out where you stand/Because we're the resistance."
The album's message is potent in a way that can't be undermined, but overanalyzing Sávila's music feels like clipping the wings of a bird. The album's opener, "Sávila," could be interpreted as the band's mission statement. "Plant from the heavens/Singing your song," Gonzalez sings on the softly building track. "Open their eyes/When it was time."
In the context of the band's sprawling, encompassing sound, it doesn't seem as if she's singing about the band, or even the plant. It's more like Gonzalez is summoning some kind of transcendent, healing force. Either way, Sávila amounts to an offering to something much greater.
SEE IT: Sávila plays Polaris Hall, 635 N Killingsworth Court, polarishall.com, with Sister Mantos and DJ Anjali the Incredible Kid, on Friday, Aug. 17. 8 pm. $12 advanced, $15 day of show. 21+.