London-based singer-songwriter Anna B Savage’s album, A Common Turn, is an extraordinary statement of intent. Mired in the kind of uncertainty that causes night sweats, it’s nonetheless a confident-sounding debut, with lush, delicate production from William Doyle (formerly known as East India Youth).
Savage’s deep, resonant vocals seem very much at odds with her lyrical content, curling operatically around acoustic guitars and shimmering synths. Both her parents are classical singers, so it perhaps seemed inevitable that she would follow them, but strong musical DNA does not always lead to a sense of entitlement. This is most evident in the hypnotic chime of ‘Dead Pursuits’, where she questions the worth of both creating art and of decisions she has made. ‘I didn’t ace that interview / I didn’t even apply’, she sings, and you can feel the cringe right down to her toes, even as her voice spirals and soars.
‘A Common Tern’ (sic) is folk that bares its fangs, lulling the listener into a false sense of security with a casual strum that moves into dark corners, then seems to implode. On ‘Corncrakes’, Savage sounds utterly exposed: ‘I want to text you, but it’d mean I’d thought about you… I don’t know if this is even real / I don’t feel things as keenly as I used to‘. It’s like discovering a diary page casually flung out onto the street – you’re left wondering at the pain that motivated the writer to put such words down.
It’s testament to Savage that such honesty and vulnerability never feels self-indulgent, though. Inspired by authors like Tove Jansson and Amy Liptrot (no strangers themselves to introspection), there is enough sly humour here to counter any concerns. Closing track ‘One’ even sees Savage playfully mocking her own insecurities, suggesting that therapy and art have pulled her through some difficult times and will continue to do so.
Savage is every bit as effective when stripping things back as when whipping up anthemic storms, and much of her power lies in knowing when to keep the dynamics low-key.
If, as many cultural commentators have suggested, narcissism is on the rise, then leave it to artists like Savage to provide the antidote. This is a majestic collection of songs which prove that the empaths who walk tentatively among us may yet hold the answers to future understanding. There is strength in sensitivity.
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