The strumming hum of a temperate, barely-there guitar drops out about halfway through “Corncrakes,” and Anna B Savage breaks the silence with an intimate utter, leading us into an accelerating operatic vocal climb composed of the same repeated phrase: “I don’t know if this is even real; I don’t feel things as keenly as I used to.” It sounds the way having a once-in-a-lifetime epiphany feels: subtle and nagging at first, then one day, indisputable and unignorable.
The track, much like the rest of the London singer-songwriter’s debut A Common Turn, is an exercise in the impossible heights, and depths, you can reach with as little as possible. A pantheon of concise editing and intentional sparsity, bolstered by jarringly honest songwriting, knife-sharp production from William Doyle (FKA East India Youth), and a robust alto that could give Joni a run for her money.
Five years after a debut EP that led to touring slots with the likes of Jenny Hval and Father John Misty (and a breakup) later, Savage brings us a debut that’s filled to the brim with personal, absurdly specific detail. But then again, the period in which she created the songs on the album was similarly unique, and similarly intimate. Following her breakup, she set out to make a film recreating the loss of her virginity.
“In the film we re-live losing our virginities, having the actors work out what we remember, where does your left hand go at this point, where does your right hand go? How many thrusts are there?,” she detailed in an interview Loud and Quiet. “We hadn’t spoken for several years since we broke up, so we did loads of interviews separately with a third person, a close friend to both of us, so we wouldn’t infiltrate each other’s memories, the two versions of the virginity play out next to each other. It’s very stark and our memories are quite different. It goes back to the female pleasure thing: I don’t cum, I don’t get anywhere near cumming, and it lasts for about 25 seconds, just all the stuff that isn’t normally shared.”
It should come at no surprise, then, that the lead single from the album, “Chelsea Hotel #3,” is an intense, yet playful saga about masturbation and learning how to cum–right down to a closing line about a sexual awakening prompted by Tim Curry in lingerie à la “Rocky Horror.” What does, however, come as a surprise, given its constant stream of specificity, is how singular and universally moving A Common Turn’s songs feel. Whether it’s her interrogation of tension around a platonic could-be relationship on “Baby Grand” or her surprising picture of a nasty internal echo chamber fueled by low self-worth on “Two,” or just the sheer consistency of her vocal prowess (her parents are both classical singers), Anna B Savage is wondrous enigma.