Artist to Watch: McCall’s ‘On Self Loathing’ EP Is a Stunning Tapestry of Vulnerable, Electrifying Music

McCall © Haley Kreofsky
McCall © Haley Kreofsky

Mitch's Take

10 Overall Rating
A breathtaking, emotionally draining, dramatic entity unto itself, McCall’s sophomore EP ‘On Self Loathing’ is a stunningly vulnerable, sonically jarring deep dive into the artist’s heart and soul. Arresting experimental and alt-pop music make for an energizing, euphoric experience we will be returning to again and again for years to come.

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for fans of Glass Animals, Bon Iver, Gordi, James Blake
Stream: “Nothing Even Wrong” – McCall

McCall’s new EP opens with a soft breath in and a tender vocal caress out, followed by a seismic sonic overhaul of epic proportions.

It’s feverish and tantalizing, unsettling and all-encompassing: A breathtaking, emotionally draining, dramatic entity unto itself (quite literally, it will leave you breathless and gasping for air). Born out of isolation, intimacy, and intense self-reflection, McCall’s sophomore EP On Self Loathing is a stunningly vulnerable, sonically jarring deep dive into the artist’s heart and soul. Arresting experimental and alt-pop music make for an energizing, euphoric experience we will be returning to again and again for years to come.

On Self Loathing - McCall
On Self Loathing – McCall
Self-reflective to a fault
I’m always anxious when you call
Cause I’m not who I wanna be yet
And I don’t want you to see me
If I’m less than perfect
I don’t wanna waste your time,
I don’t wanna make excuses anymore
But I can’t keep from crying
– “Without Even Trying,” McCall

Independently released September 18, 2020, On Self Loathing is simply sublime; urgency and anxiety manifest in this thirteen-minute overhaul that confronts our innermost demons and insecurities head-on, tackling deep-seated issues that speak to who we are in the very depths of our souls. The follow-up to 2019’s debut EP Under the Reign, On Self Loathing finds 21-year-old LA-based artist McCall Kimball working with producer Bobby Rethwish to deliver an inimitable five-track upheaval that truly defies definition.

McCall © Haley Kreofsky
McCall © Haley Kreofsky
Tame my heart and the pain,
As it sharpens
There’s nothing even wrong
I hide away in my bed
(Haven’t slept, haven’t slept yet, haven’t slept)
And sometimes it’s too hard to cry
And too hard to shut my eyes
So I lay retching on the tile
Til I find some peace of mind
– “Nothing Even Wrong,” McCall

“While I was sitting in the cemetery, the concept of On Self-Loathing began to form in my head,” McCall tells Atwood Magazine. “I understood the only way to kill the metaphorical demons inside my head was to look right at them. I was never going to be able to control something that I didn’t understand, so I needed to get to know these little idiots. I decided I would let them come forward and have a chance to voice their opinions in these songs. While they did that, I would assume the role of clinician, observing and recording from a safe distance until they said their piece.”

This mind-blowing journey begins with the marriage of tenderness and explosiveness on “Nothing Even Wrong,” an enchanting introduction into McCall’s emotional and sonic world. She establishes herself as a first-rate artistic force through what is essentially an electrifying alt-pop song filtered through a tapestry of familiar and unfamiliar sounds.

In addition to guitars, vocals, drums, and synths, the studio itself plays a heavy, important role in making each song a unique and unparalleled seduction. These aural interjections range from the quirky to the surreal; we recognize the iPhone timer going off at the start of the aching “Will You Ever Go Away?” and the familiar bleep embedded in a pause on “Nothing Even Wrong,” but many of the intervening sounds go either undetected or wind up serving as unidentifiable pieces of the larger puzzle. As one dives deeper into McCall’s music, these deviations from the norm come to feel comfortable, and eventually we’re pining for more of this intoxicating musical papier-mâché. Reminiscent to Bon Iver’s 22, A Million, Glass Animals’ Dreamland, and the works of Gordi and James Blake, On Self Loathing is steeped in exploration and intent. It is not challenging, but it is not meant to be an easy listen, either: Emotions aren’t easy.

McCall © Haley Kreofsky
McCall © Haley Kreofsky

Speaking to Alt Citizen earlier this summer, McCall noted how she was in a dark mindset at the outset of recording this EP. “There’s this attitude about your early twenties that you’re supposed to be “solidifying the person you’ll be for the rest of your life” and setting up good habits, etc,” she noted. “That sentiment really got to me for a bit because I don’t like myself most of the time, and I felt like the clock was ticking on my chance to become someone I was proud of or be stuck like this forever. So I used the writing of this EP to comb through every single character flaw that led me to this mindset, so I could see my shortcomings all at once and work on myself from there… I flipped the script on myself this time, really trying to dive deep into ways that I’ve let myself down rather than narrate events I’ve experienced.”

She continues: “I also decided nothing could be in standard tuning on my guitar for some reason, so I spent a lot of time learning all the tunings in Hozier’s album Wasteland, Baby! and Pinegrove’s Skylight.”

Nihilistic, hold my breath
I’m catatonic in my bed
Living off of borrowed money
Like I deserve it
Wonder why nobody wants me
As if I’ve earned it yet
I don’t wanna waste your time,
I don’t wanna make excuses anymore
But I can’t keep from crying
– “Without Even Trying,” McCall

It’s abundantly clear that McCall pushed herself throughout On Self Loathing‘s creative process. Her lyrics plunder the farthest depths of her inner sanctum, and every second of every song feels thought out, as if McCall is an architect and this EP is her triumphant vision. Nowhere is this better felt than on the haunting “One Eye Open,” where raw vocals harmonize and coalesce in massive crescendos, only to peter out into tranquilizing silence.

You’re in deep, I keep my distance
In my sleep, I’m still with him
In his room, where he told me
He is lonely but he doesn’t miss me
And I still refuse to cry about it
Sorry if it makes me seem too distant
I’m too used to silence
But I’ll tell you if you ask me
All of this time I’ve been blinded
All of this love is one-sided
Now I know next time to let it go
Keep one eye open at night
And I wanna let you back in
But I’ve still got scars on my skin
I know in time I can let it go
But I still keep one eye open
– “One Eye Open,” McCall

McCall closes her EP with majesty and grace: “Disaster” is her thesis statement. “I’m a walking disaster,” she expresses against an industrial palette of harsh, yet soothing synths. In reviewing the song upon its release, Atwood Magazine‘s Baylee Less called “Disaster” a defiant anthem “that confronts shame, gratitude, and antagonistic emotions with dominant vocals and machine revving electric builds. It’s a track describing late-night wrestling matches with your mind; the harsh criticisms we can plunge into when left alone with a mirror. McCall’s fire and subjection are exhilarating, especially since many of us have felt this way one time or another.”

I read what’s creased around my eyes
I look older than I did last night
I’ve been giving into my lesser side
Stock piling all of my pride
I’ve been calling home less on the weekends
And making mama cry
Hiding anger underneath my skin
I’m picking my nails down to the quick
Honestly, my memory’s a blessing in disguise
If I remembered everything
I’d make a vodka cyanide
– “Disaster,” McCall

You will come away from this music rejuvenated and refreshed, perhaps with a renewed sense of purpose and resolve. McCall is fearless, and her art is fearless too: On Self Loathing is a perfect thirteen-minute immersion that, rather than escape from life, confronts it head-on. Few artists dare be so direct in their music, and even fewer create an entire multi-track project out of it.

But McCall isn’t like other artists; without a doubt one of this year’s most promising artists to watch, McCall is singular in nature, substance, style, and sound.

Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside McCall’s On Self Loathing EP with Atwood Magazine as the artist goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of her sophomore EP!

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:: stream/purchase On Self Loathing here ::
Stream: ‘On Self Loathing’ – McCall

:: Inside On Self Loathing ::

On Self Loathing - McCall

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Nothing Even Wrong

McCall: When my anxiety acts up, the first place I can feel it is in my chest and arms. My heart will start racing, my arms will go numb, and sometimes it feels like someone is pushing a pin into my sternum. It’s a slow burn usually, but sometimes it sneaks up on me. It makes it difficult to sleep, and when I can’t fall asleep I get more nervous, which makes it even more difficult to fall asleep – you know how the feedback loop goes. For a little while around the beginning of the year, I started getting woken up early in the morning by this extremely uncomfortable – almost ticklish? – feeling in my chest and stomach. It felt like something was scratching at me from the inside out, and the only way I could get rid of it would be to literally writhe around on the floor, cycling between any movements I thought might make it go away. The feeling hasn’t visited me since I wrote the song though, which is nice. Maybe I scared it away by talking about it.
Bobby: This song really didn’t require a lot of imagination on my part because I was immediately in love with the sonic palette McCall was using in her demo. We ended up keeping the drums from her demo as well as some of the vocal samples. The trickiest part was just getting the intro right. My first draft of the intro had these pretty little chimes going on, until McCall was like “I love it, but can we replace the chimes with scraping metal sounds?” and the rest is history!

Will You Ever Go Away

McCall: If “Nothing Even Wrong” is the nighttime, then “Will You Ever Go Away” is the morning after. I’m frustrated and sleep-deprived at this point, and the anxious energy has shifted from tolerable to enraging. My patience with my anxiety had run dry by the time I started writing this – I was very much over it. I could feel this voice in my head defaulting the same victim narratives, getting mad about things that happened years ago, and just generally plaguing me with people and events I didn’t want or have to think about anymore. This whole song is a plea to my subconscious to let go of past trauma.
Bobby: We’d had this song pretty much finished since early March, but in June McCall was gracious enough to allow me to tack on an extra minute of producer catnip that I made when I was drunk one night. I suppose it’s probably a good thing though, because otherwise the EP would’ve clocked in at 13 minutes. We don’t want that bad juju.

Without Even Trying

McCall: This song is actually the last song I wrote for the EP, about three months after I finished writing all the others. It’s about feeling Imposter Syndrome hardcore. It started after this one FaceTime I had with my wonderful manager, Josh. He was talking about bringing more people on to the team to help with the EP, and I just started sobbing out of nowhere. At the moment, I was really confused with Josh for wanting to work with me in the first place, and I was sure that I would ultimately waste anyone’s time who worked on the project because I wasn’t going to amount to anything. I felt extremely unworthy of praise, attention, or resources of any kind and had to just word-vomit this song out. In hindsight, I’m pretty embarrassed by how dramatic I was being, but at least we got this song?
Bobby: McCall replied to one of my mixes of this saying “it sounds like you’re having a panic attack while a disney movie is on in the other room,” and I think that pretty much sums it up. I made most of the drums out of camera sounds, that’s pretty cool right? I actually got this song super wrong initially because I thought it would be great as a super intimate little R&B ballad. I couldn’t have been more wrong, McCall called me and was like “no more ballads!” She was nice about it though. Then a month later I took another stab at it and got the version we have now. What a wild ride!

One Eye Open

McCall: I wrote “One Eye Open” with my friends Skofee and Jamison sometime last year. It’s about beginning a relationship with someone who you know is good for you, but still being plagued by past relationship failures. Generally, I think it’s smart to stay vigilant and keep your independence, but at the time I could feel that I was being colder than I needed to be just because of how I had been rejected in the past. I also listen to too many murder podcasts and it’s always the husband, you know?
Bobby: Producing for McCall is so much fun because the songs are already fantastic to begin with. It really gives me the freedom to try and find the most unlikely framing for them to exist in, knowing that the song itself will be great no matter what. I had a lot of fun playing with silence and space with this one. If there’s two things I know about McCall, it’s that she loves big fuzzy sub bass and little moments of silence. Surprise, this one has both! While I was working on this, my friend Martin Chiesl sent me some saxophone recordings that I was planning on using for one of my own songs, but they ended up being precisely the finishing touch that this song needed. What a miracle!


McCall: Ah yes, the thesis statement of it all: I am a walking disaster. The original version was produced by Max Leone in his room in Silverlake. I had written a rough draft of it the week prior in Austin, TX while visiting my manager, and Zoe Benson and Lina Kay really helped polish it off and provide a bit more context. I was feeling very guilty at the time, and I felt the need to confess. I needed to say publicly “I dye my hair too much, I don’t call my mom enough, I have a short temper, and I’m just another white kid from the suburbs who has taken my privilege for granted my whole life! Loathe me!” Obviously this isn’t a productive mindset, and I didn’t stay there very long, but I do think it was healthy for me to check myself. I have been a very different person since I wrote this song and I’m so grateful for it!
Bobby: This was the first song that McCall and I really worked on together, so I was just trying to impress her enough to make her want to work on more songs with me. That’s why the chorus is so unreasonably aggressive. I actually kept the bass from Max Leone’s demo of it, I just decided to add like three distortions and make it super loud. I guess it worked, I got to produce the whole EP!

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:: stream/purchase On Self Loathing here ::
Stream: ‘On Self Loathing’ – McCall

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On Self Loathing - McCall

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? © Haley Kreofsky

:: Stream McCall ::

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