An exquisite unravelling of the self that’s layered with melancholy, joy and wit, Anna B Savage‘s debut album A Common Turn is a compelling collection of deftly crafted songs that enrapture the ears. The London-born, Dublin-based songwriter has channelled her feelings of grief and insecurity into a confident and cohesive record, cauterizing the emotional wounds of her past and taking charge of her future.
Released via City Slang and produced by William Doyle, Savage’s debut LP is a raw yet polished affair that brims with her eccentric observations about love, growth, working “really fucking hard” and most surprisingly, her admiration of birds. Having had a fascination with them since childhood, Savage uses birds as a visual motif throughout the record; their recurrence acting as warnings, epiphanies or reassurances that eloquently shift Savage’s narrative perspective.
The skittish, evocative opener ‘A Steady Warmth’ bleeds into the congenial acoustic guitar strums on ‘Corncrakes’, her confessional lyrics bringing her vivid inner monologue to life. Savage admits she doesn’t “feel things as keenly” anymore and struggles to break relatable bad habits: “I want to text you / but it’d mean I’d thought about you.” Her willingness to explore this rocky emotional territory is epitomised on ‘Dead Pursuit’.
An affecting, defiant ballad that sees her tear herself “limb from limb”, Savage penned this track whilst grappling with imposter syndrome after the success of her 2015 debut EP, which caught the attention of Father John Misty and Jenny Hval who she went on to tour with. It’s humbling to hear Savage lay her insecurities bare and comforting to see her desires for quick fixes – “I’m dying my hair and cutting out sugar” – didn’t stop her from fleshing out the sounds on her beguiling debut record.
The urgent line “I want us to thrive” is delivered with deft conviction on ‘BedStuy’, whilst the serendipitous creation of ‘Baby Grand’ and its forthcoming accompanying short film – which Anna worked on with ex-partner Jem Talbot – is “an exploration of the how and why some people just crawl into your heart and make a home there.” She displays the sheer power of her vocal range on ‘Two’ amidst raw guitar twangs and unexpected jagged electronics. They punctuate the track, as Savage sits in pensive reflection in her childhood bedroom, fearing she will “never amount to anything.” She lets the walls echo her doubts back at her, pushing her emotional resilience to its limit.
The album’s title track ‘A Common Tern’ is a brooding exploration of Savage’s need to be free from the shackles of a pernicious romantic relationship. The track shares its name with a seabird, the sight of which prompted Savage to re-think her relationship while on a fishing trip with her ex. These startling moments of realisation are tentatively placed throughout the record, with following track ‘Chelsea Hotel #3’ showing listeners just how empowering a break from your past can be.
It’s an intense, exquisite celebration of female pleasure and how Savage has learned to dismiss the damaging tropes associated with it. Fans of Leonard Cohen will be familiar with the opening lyric – “He was giving me head on my unmade bed” – as it’s paraphrased from Cohen’s track ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’. Through tentative guitar sounds, revealing lyrics and measured vocals, Savage subverts Cohen’s storytelling, re-writing the narrative to rid herself of shame and confusion. When she sings “I will learn to take care of myself” it’s with genuine, unfaltering conviction.
Savage’s lyrics continue to ripple with an earnest beauty on ‘Hotel’. The image of the red foam left in her bloodied mouth after vigorously brushing her teeth is strikingly poetic. “I turn the big lights off / I put my headphones in” she sings, indirectly instructing listeners the best way in which to let her sounds sink into their consciousness. The stripped back, bare nature of closing track ‘One’ is a potent wish to be “strong and fine.” “Jesus I’m too insecure for this / for him to undress me then take the piss” Savage exhales, grappling with emotional sore spots and physical unease with ones self. She handles feelings of shame and melancholy with impressive tact and sensitivity, healing open wounds by confronting her vulnerabilities head on.
“For me, ‘a common turn’ is those moments of decision where you think ‘I’m not taking this anymore,” Savage explains about the title of her record. “Whether it’s the way someone else is treating you or the what you’re treating yourself.” Her poetic refusal to be erased by the pain of her own experiences is what makes listening to A Common Turn so compelling. Savage’s patient, captivating soundscapes traverse intensely personal terrain, and what a privilege it is to be allowed into this vast, wildly honest territory of hers.