by Drew Boston
The duality of Anna McClellan's Yes and No induces a strange vertiginous ache. Usually, to balance a record's raw poignancy and harmonic intricacy requires a circus-like performance of such precise virtuosity that, in effect, the stress of worrying whether the tightrope walker will remain un-maimed robs one's spectatorship of its pleasurable dimension. The fact that McClellan is able to marry elements as disparate as an earnest, definitively 21st century vocal waver with cascading piano arrangements that recall the most baroque Paul McCartney or Harry Nilsson compositions without sounding either precious or stilted is impressive, and the content that fleshes out this form is as winning as the nonchalance with which the whole thing is pulled off. "I wish I could miss you and be with you both at once", McClellan sings on "But At the Same Time". It's a good encapsulation of the mix of melancholy and euphoria that permeates the record.
Take 'Heart of Hearts', the hookiest and most infectious of the album's nine songs, a perfect radio single. The cracking quality of McClellan's voice masks its robustness and musicality. McClellan is a fantastic singer, and is able to transition between the song's woozy piano waltz for the verses and a showstopper bridge. Or "Look Alive", with its classic late-night lounge feel, like if Carole King scored an Andrew Bujalski film. Throughout the record, McClellan re-animates '70s-inflected singer-songwriter tropes with a wholly unique spin.
Lyrically, Yes and No is direct, even raw in places. "Drunk in love on a Saturday/words I thought I'd never say/feelings are so abstract/don't you think we should dance?," McClellan asks on "Shit's in the Stars". The album was reportedly recorded after an extended road trip, and captures the detached self-reflection of a long solo voyage. One imagines the protagonist of the songs adrift amidst the gas stations and access roads of our fading empire, writing intimate letters to someone back east, someone never out of mind. To intercept these love letters is a supreme pleasure.