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Anna B Savage has always asked questions in her music, but on new album in|FLUX answers are no longer her quest. Vulnerability and curiosity have consistently been operative words to describe her work and on her second album she ruminates on the complexities and variables of humanity, the pain or pleasure of love, loss and earthly connection, capturing it all in devastating, elating and powerful ways. The key difference between this and previous releases: she’s not anxious about what’s on the other side. She’s come to appreciate staying afloat – basking even – in the open ended, uncertainty of the grey area.
It’s been hard work to get to this point, both in the studio and in the sometimes gruelling work it takes to get there using therapy. Like anyone that has been knows the unfurling of one’s innermost thoughts and feelings – some that you may not even know are there – reveals they are in constant flux. In fact, the aforementioned and operative ‘vulnerability’ attributed to her music before now has a partner, the notion of said ‘flux’.
Because in contrast to her debut, A Common Turn, in|FLUX takes Savage on a diametric journey. When faced with the inconsistencies of the world, in your relationships, and within yourself (they often make themselves present in the damning quiet of a therapy room) you want clear cut and irrefutable answers, especially when paired with the pristine superficiality of a life without conflict or nuance portrayed on social media.
Like a lot of women, our feelings are deferred to other authorities (most devastatingly this includes inner imposter voices implanted by a life of patriarchy) “I’ve had a whole lifetime of being told that I don’t know what I feel or want and that the most important thing in my life is relationships” It stifles your ability to navigate tricky circumstances that aren’t black or white. How do you know how to deal with, say, “…making it through a terribly toxic relationship, one that made you so hurt and angry, but still not knowing what to do with all the love you had for them?” says Savage. What about when you’re not trusted enough to explore duality at all?
The first stage to healing from this was simply acknowledging that variances were intrinsic to existing. “I came to accept that inconsistencies and hypocrisies were a part of human nature”, crucially adding that “they all work together to form a whole.” She changed from deeming duality as pejorative to being excited and energised by it. In turn, she began to trust herself: “Trusting that often my instinct is enough, trusting that I am allowed to be multifaceted, and that I can embody and express my dualities and multitudes”, “trust I can express this and be understood…trust myself to be able to write songs again”.
Though her previous releases have been met with massive critical acclaim, receiving plaudits from the likes of The New York Times, NPR and Rolling Stone, and tour support slots with Jenny Hval and Father John Misty, her insecurities made the process fairly gruelling. Instead she approached creating in|FLUX in a way that was imbued with self-governance and determination, shedding the pressure she had put on herself.
None of the songs were fully formed before entering the studio, the whole experience was fluid and relied on interactions and play with producer Mike Lindsay (Tuung, Lump). Where Savage thought she would fall foul of her own negative self-talk, she spent each morning before seeing Mike working on her ‘Morning Pages’, an idea from the hugely popular book The Artist’s Way, which consisted of writing streams of consciousness to actively enact her unlearning, leaning into instinct.
She confidently explores lyrical themes and musical tones of duality – she’s a true artist and she’s given herself grace to believe that which has been audibly freeing. The resulting breadth of emotion on in|FLUX is palpable. Take “Feet of Clay” a song that describes her agency in a romantic relationship whilst acknowledging her inner contradictions, “I know I said I wanted you but I’ve got feet of clay, I know I said I wanted you but that was yesterday.” There’s anguish in “Say My Name”: which culminates in a spine-tingling breath at the end, perhaps an expression of shock, relief or of exhaustion. But there’s also tranquillity; on ‘Hungry’ where she professes, “thought I’d feel lonely but that’s not true”, and resolute determination on title track ‘in|FLUX’, the line “I want to be alone, I’m happy on my own” repeated like a mantra as the song descends into an unhinged, jubilant mess.
Desire and intimacy are here too, from the nervous ‘dance’ of “Crown Shyness”, describing two people on the precipice of an uncertain romance, to the lust of “Pavlov’s Dog” and “Touch Me”: “Touch me, please/ Pull my hair / caress my cheek”. Her meandering yet deft vocals – something like Wild Beasts’ Hayden Thorpe, the operatic Maria Callas, the rawness and unruly beauty of Ella Fitzgerald – are still the perfect bedding for the bitesize stories she carves out; the push and pull of expressions of vulnerability evident once again.
Musically, there’s an openness and range to match the breadth of emotion. Anna dusted off her clarinet and saxophone, instruments she hadn’t played for 15 years, trusting that with a little bit of time she could play proficiently enough for her purposes. A friend gifted her an electronic-kalimba too (a personalised ‘Colour Palette’ by Lottie Canto), an adaptation of the mbira instrument native to Zimbabwe (it’s found some popularity in recent years, namely on Volcano Choir’s ‘Mbira on the Morass’) and instinctively “I knew that I had to put it on everything. The sound of it was so perfect for this album: Warm, friendly and a little unsettling”, and crucially, “Both things at once.” You can hear it subtly layered under recent single “The Ghost” for one.
Perfection wasn’t the goal and she embraced flaws. On “The Orange”, Savage accidentally went to the wrong chord during recording, “but I absolutely love it” she says, ultimately keeping that in the final chord structure. “It went wrong, but it worked out for the better.”
Some of the greatest songs have ‘mistakes’ or ‘accidents’, but sometimes they come to be crucial to the qualities of these songs, take Radiohead’s “Creep” or D’Angelo’s “How Does It Feel.” Standing beside apparent errors and treating them as unexpected treasures is key to suffusing confidence and exercising self-belief. For Savage, it represents something like “an expression of my own new found attitude towards myself, to life, creativity and songwriting…a realisation that things will be alright”
The song turned out to be the linchpin of in|FLUX, perfectly showing this development that she looks to bring on stage. It’s a full circle moment; sentimentally in opposition to “ONE”, the oldest song on A Common Turn. From “I thought he was better than that, to grab an inch of stomach and say fat”, to “Nowadays I like my lovely soft belly / and my soft sensibilities / the wobbly warmth within me”
Taking this self-belief forward, she is set to play some of her biggest shows to date in 2023, including London’s Village Underground. “I am so excited to play these songs live. These songs show little pockets of joy, or recovery or hold difficult multitudes within them that hopefully show my development as a person and as a musician”.
“I feel like this album is an exploration of recovery and the journey of therapy,” says Savage. By standing in dichotomy: the light and dark of it, highs and lows it produces, love and loss and everything in between, she explores new plains that unfurl and reveal a different and more self-assured person within. “it’s a difficult thing [to engage in] but can also be the best thing ever, and lead you to feeling completely content.”
It’ll be a sentiment that reaches fans deeply, especially in a time where uncertainty feels a lot more ubiquitous to life in recent memory. We’re all trying really fucking hard to be happy and content, and Anna B Savage is trying really fucking hard too. But she’s equipped more than ever to, as she says, “carve out my own life…know that it can be enjoyable, and lean into that.” Like she says on “The Orange”, if this is all that there is…she’s going to be fine.