Anna McClellan’s sophomore album is called Yes and No, and it’s out now on Father/Daughter records. The collection is nine tracks long, it plays for about thirty-five minutes, and it deals with issues in a very straight-forward manner. These are the facts.
However, in contrast to the no-nonsense approach of addressing subjects toe-to-toe, the magic of this album lies in the nuanced approach to dancing through meanings, relationships, and expectations. Anna McClellan looks at loneliness, she addresses the sense of separation, and the distance between things. She notices that not only is she experiencing solitude, everyone is experiencing solitude, and so she asks herself, “Hmm. How did this come about?”
Intentionally singing a quart-tone off-key she says “I’m talkin’ about harmony, I keep with it.” A track like “Heart of Hearts” underpins an album like Yes and No. McClellan occupies two spaces at the same time. There are echoes of Harry Nilsson’s approach to songwriting. Lyricism is crushingly strong, vocal performance is characterful, and yet it’s the vulnerability of process that appears to appeal most to McClellan. She knows strength, yet she avoids the obvious flex. It’s her sense of wonder in the hard-to-pin that drags her, and us along.
The poetry that populates this album is unique to McClellan, but it spreads itself across a universal view. Personal experiences; the need for validation, and the longing for approval are recognized and moved beyond. The artist sings with genuine affection for the moments of sadness, and the aspects of herself that she has learned to leave behind. Singing of being alone is singing to ourselves, but also it’s singing to everyone, on all of our behalfs.
“Nail Biting Song” is one of the moments where personal vulnerability is measured against a collective nervousness. For all the reflection, and all the talk of first-person intimacy, McClellan is essentially acknowledging, “We ALL feel this way, right?” She strikes, and resonates in the hearts beyond her immediate influence. She plays with totems which in one instance are too much to handle, and in the next they become pocket-sized; dissolving easily.
Yes and No is an album that installs comfort in every song, so even in the most heartbreaking moment – pressing against the golden memory of now-lost lovers – there is beauty, compassion, and a kind of wisdom. Moving away from the need for approval we can appreciate the magic for what it was. It’s a beautiful thing to accomplish; this kind of lyrical awareness that never indulges in showiness, or ranting elitism. Through the simplest methods McClellan dismantles the most complex bullshit. People gain the power you give them. By sticking to the facts she produces magic.
For all this talk of vulnerability, and for all the awareness of isolationism, the heart of this album is one that belongs to a champion. The existential qualities of an individual moving through the world are measured against a sense of connection. “I want more from the state and the people / so all of us are treated equal / it just makes sense.” is just the kind of phrase we want to hear above the noise of the contemporary scene. McClellan roots her perspective in compassion, and it’s not budging.
Listeners familiar with Anna McClellan’s 2015 debut, Fire Flames, won’t be surprised at what’s delivered here. Her voice remains unique, unforced, and capable of bringing your mind right inside her vision. Musical stylings are on point too. There are no loud bangs, no sudden shifts, and nothing is overreached. Production values portray ability, they don’t synthesize needlessly fancy dynamics. However, what is different here is the depth of poetry which McClellan now finds possible. Through experience, and a little aging, the artist delivers with more authority, more confidence, and perhaps with the ability to lead a revolution.
What a lovely idea – a power grab by Anna McClellan. Imagine the songs we’d sing from the barricades.
HURRY – LISTEN – ANNA McCLELLAN
PHOTO BY EBRU YILDIZ