There's something about the holidays that makes Alexandra Savior write sad songs.
Just after midnight one New Year's Day, the Portland singer-songwriter sat down and wrote "Crying All the Time." Despite the song's teary title, it sprang from a place of relief: Savior was free from an abusive relationship, a lonely stint in L.A., and the clutches of stifling influences from all directions.
The song became the lead single to Savior's new album, The Archer. Released Jan. 10, Savior's 10-song collection of dreamy psych rock puts her velvety vocals and bruised heart on full display. The chorus of "Crying All the Time" encapsulates the album's tangled mess of freedom and sorrow: "He doesn't like it when I cry/And now he's gone/So I'm crying all the time," she sings in her nostalgic, jazzy voice over a mountain of reverb that recalls a psychedelic spaghetti Western.
The Archer marks a major juncture in her career. Savior recorded her last album, Belladonna of Sadness, in L.A., for a major label with Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner as producer. Now, Savior's back in Portland and signed to a smaller label. And this time around, she's the album's lone auteur.
A few years ago, Savior watched Turner pull up to L.A.'s Mustard Seed Cafe in a black Cadillac for their first meeting. Turner ended up co-writing and -producing Belladonna of Sadness, Savior's 2017 debut, infusing it with his suave, loungy sound and erudite lyrics. His name also dominated much of the album's press coverage. Pitchfork deemed it an Alex Turner album sung by an otherwise unknown crooner. "La-di-dah," Savior sardonically sings on "Mirage," the album's single, "I sing songs about whatever the fuck they want."
Savior found the superficial shell of L.A. hard to accept, opting to retreat, "alone and stoned," to her bedroom, she told Billboard. "I was being seen for what [other people] could push me into and what was most sellable."
A year after Belladonna's release, with Turner no longer in the picture, Columbia Records dropped Savior from her contract, and her manager quit. By that time, she was already in the wake of an L.A. depression, living back in Portland with her mom, attending community college and thinking about withdrawing from the music industry forever.
Still, her songwriting fire burned on. Before long, Savior found herself signed to her friend Danger Mouse's 30th Century Records label and working with producer Sam Cohen in Brooklyn.
Created over the course of nine months, The Archer marks the rebirth of Savior's artistic and personal independence. She begins, in a sense, by regarding her reflection in the shards of a shattered mirror. "I've had seven years of bad luck," she sings on the confessional, piano-backed opener, "Soft Currents."
The song's minimalist production showcases Savior's ethereal vocals, suggesting a departure from her desert-rock roots—"Soft Currents" sounds much more Fiona Apple than Arctic Monkeys. But by track two, "Saving Grace," the album roars to life, and the surfy bass recalls her first record.
While most songs on The Archer revive Belladonna's desert-dream production, mixed with sounds that seem borrowed from 1960s movies and space-themed arcade games, its lyrics are simpler and more introspective. Instead of singing about songs about forlorn characters in L.A., here, Savior mostly sings about her own experiences with manipulative forces and predatory men.
Among those tracks is the doomed-love song "Howl," which she wrote back in 2015, when she was still restrained by her former label. "Handsome dictator of my crimes," she sings. "I can't tell if they're yours, I can't tell if they're mine."
The two tracks that bookend The Archer are Savior's most intimate and resounding songs to date—and the furthest away from her first record. Savior wrote the album's final track on Christmas Day in 2016. Like opener "Soft Currents," title track "The Archer" began as a raw iPhone recording, and the final version retains the feeling of something bare and candid. Singing over a plunky piano and rattling tambourine, Savior's rich voice reverberates with Lana Del Rey levels of melodrama. It's a sparse ballad about how strength can spring from sorrow.
Savior's tendency to write jaded love songs while surrounded by holiday tinsel might seem a paradox, but it fits. Her L.A. party is over: The glitter has faded, the balloons have wilted, the Champagne has gone flat. She's faced the mess and the hangover, and on The Archer, she's found her own voice in the stillness.
SEE IT: Alexandra Savior plays Lola's Room, 1332 W Burnside St., mcmenamins.com, with Pearl Charles, on Wednesday, Feb. 12. 8 pm. $10 advance, $12 day of show. All ages.