Regular readers of this site will probably already be well aware of Anna McClellan. I’ve been singing the praises of the Omaha, Nebraska-based songwriter since back in September, when she shared Pace Of The Universe and Desperate, the first two tastes of her latest album, I saw first light. They were thrilling slices of bedroom-pop, perfect introductions to get the world excited about the record that would follow. With the album coming out last week on Father/Daughter Records arrived the proof that Anna McClellan has more than lived up to that early promise.
The tone and mood of I saw first light are beautifully set from the off, courtesy of opening track, Con S Sewer. The track enters on a Carole King-like piano line, before Anna’s vocal arrives, calm and thoughtful, not prone to over-statement or dramatic pronouncements, “then I lived another moment, and still one more after that”. Here, Anna introduces a feeling that lingers throughout the record, an idea of a life being led, well aware of the ways of the world and weary of its unfairness, yet willing to keep on trying to make it better. Throughout, Anna blends the personal with wider statements on the world as a whole. The personal is evident on Desperate, a heart-wrenching plea for someone to save Anna from her own worst instincts, as to a backing of meandering guitar and fuzzy-bass, Anna asks, “do you wanna be the one that I come to, when I feel so bad I can’t be soothed?” That track slides perfectly, into album stand-out, Feel You, an anthem to living in your body rather than just your head, set to a lush of backing of lithe, almost jazzy guitars and the steady tick of a snare drum. Lyrically, the track features a beautifully collective response to the world’s troubles, “all this bullshit of building a wall. To hell with borders, let the empire fall. I’ll go down with you, and we can quit our shitty jobs, and let the seeds that matter bloom”. It’s a beautiful statement of not just intent but of a desire for action, of re-writing the stories history will tell generations to come, and celebrating the fact together is the only way we can change things, “let our hands touch and fingers intertwine. No overthinking, not like I did all those other times. It’s the end of the world, as we know it and I feel just fine”.
On first listen, I thought I had Anna McClellan pegged as a bedroom-pop musician, a natural companion to former touring buddies Frankie Cosmos or the prolific lo-fi creativity of Magnetic Fields, yet I saw first light is not a record that falls quite so neatly into those boxes. Yes there’s moments like, Trying Too Hard with its keyboard-led rhythm and twangy guitars, or the Kimya Dawson-like closing track, No Wind, that verge on anti-folk minimalism, yet elsewhere Anna shows she is not afraid of expanding her sonic palette: To Prove is a gloomy slice of piano-led experimentation, while Veronica is Goon Sax-like garage-pop, and quite possibly the most intriguing of all is the sublime Gone, arriving on the pulse of a string-quartet, it’s a subtly gorgeous piece of Nick Drake-like folk. This is a stunning statement of intent from Anna McClellan, a record that’s both a leap forward for her songwriting and one of the finest albums you’ll hear this year.
FTR: For those who don’t know who is Anna McClellan?
I’m a musician/writer based in Omaha, NE, my hometown. I’m a chronic second-guesser and currently staring at this plant on my desk who’s growth and the way the light hits it is captivating.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
It was in the basement of a friend’s vacant property. I was a senior in high school and played solo 5 original songs. I really didn’t know what to expect. No one had heard me do anything like that before, but the response was positive. My friends who were there came up to me after and asked if I’d like them to back me up. So we started my first band that night, Howard.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
I don’t really have a strong visual aesthetic.. lol. I’m not really sure why I’ve always been drawn to music. When I was a kid and taking piano lessons, music scared the sh*t out of me. I like it because it’s a way to commune with myself and also with others. Nothing else I’ve found is as good at bridging that gap.
FTR: What can people expect from the Anna McClellan live show?
Oh you know, nothing too wild. Before the pandemic, I was playing shows with a full band mostly, but do enjoy playing solo as well. The idea of playing live feels so far removed these days. I’m interested to see how the culture of shows has shifted once it’s accessible again.
FTR: What’s next for Anna McClellan?
You all really ask the tough questions don’t you?? Really excited and grateful to share ‘I saw first light’ with everyone and beyond that I have no idea! Just to keep on living and embodying my little corner of the world the best and most present way I know how.
They Listen To…
A little taste of music coming out of Omaha these days!!!
Mesonjixx – Motion
No Thanks – Wicked Grin
s1sw (someone somewhere) – Hard
Nathan Ma – Blue Bird
McCarthy Trenching – Why Don’t I See You Anymore?