Traumas on the Table
With her debut record A Common Turn, London-born Anna B Savage grapples with uncertainty with devastating honesty. Backdropped by loose, folk guitars which turn around darkly melodic chords, Savage’s voice is painfully foregrounded. When on ‘Corncrakes’, the first song proper on the album, she sings ‘I don’t know if this is even real / I don’t feel things as keenly as I used to’, the tone is set for this painfully honest account of discovery and uncertainty.
That’s not to say that the album is sad, per se. In fact, the confidence with which Savage navigates her sadness is as uplifting a thought as anything. She probes her own darkness with a fine-toothed comb, straddling a sense of objectivity that allows for lines that gut-punch through while laying personal traumas on the table that beg to be related with. ‘I will never amount to anything’ she sings on ‘Two’, ‘skipping showers every other day’. The song is about a search for meaning in artistic life, how ‘writing hobbies on an A6 page’ helps – or doesn’t help – with the feeling of having a lot to say, but no medium through which to say it. The song is joyfully erratic, jumping from a slow-burning, heavy acoustic guitar angrily strumming under her doleful voice, which moves from a lull to a whisper, to a sudden electronic burst of synthesizers and fast-paced rhythms. There’s the beginning of a scream just cut off at the end, before moving into the slow-grooved title track.
In this journey of self-discovery, Savage is concerned with connecting with herself physically as well as emotionally. In the deftly meta ‘Chelsea Hotel #3’, she describes, with a wink to the Leonard Cohen classic, losing her virginity, and the hangover of shame associated with female pleasure: ‘He was giving me head on my unmade bed / So I tried to stay focused / But with ’Chelsea Hotel #2’ playing in the other room / I giggle, my mind runs away with me’.
Oppression of female pleasure
The song is an interesting case study of the internalised oppression of female pleasure, even in a generation of young women who have been – allegedly – taught to embrace their own sensuality. ‘I also don’t know how to please myself’ she sings later in the song, ‘Taught that it was secondary to P in V / So I first came when I was eighteen’. It’s another arrangement that jumps between rhythms and musical themes, sonically inferring the experience of losing one’s virginity and the confusion, pain, joy and disappointment of it all. Even the act of framing it within the Cohen song speaks to the pressure of the act, to find some wider meaning in a moment that is billed to young people as a defining, life-changing experience. For Savage, the real moment of discovery comes – as it were – when she was eighteen and discovered the importance of self-love.
A Common Turn has a deep sense of melancholy, of self-punishment and growing pains. Thankfully, these themes don’t translate to the musical ideas, which feel at once fresh and yet rooted in broad musicality. Her voice alone works as an instrument, gloomy and mournful with occasional brightness, while the presence of rich, moody folk guitars root the sound in something that is almost otherworldly. Her expressions of pain are universal whether she’s singing about a corncrake or texting, the subtle gestures of love or buying her first sex toy. A Common Turn is a fresh sound from an artist who embraces both humour and her own internal darkness.
To purchase A Common Turn on vinyl or CD, visit https://annabsavage.bandcamp.com/album/a-common-turn
Published on 18 February 2021
Andrea Cleary is a freelance music and culture writer based in Dublin.