Lush, Gritty, & Confessional: McCall Captivates on Charged & Churning Debut Album, ‘…to be a dream…’

McCall © Ren Shelborne
McCall © Ren Shelborne
McCall dives into her beautifully radiant and stunningly raw debut album …to be a dream…, an intense sonic and emotional tapestry that shakes us awake with catchy, colorful, and cathartic upheavals, anthems, and revelries.
for fans of Glass Animals, Bon Iver, Gordi, James Blake
Stream: “Perfect Timing” – McCall




Bathe me in light, leave me in the morning, I’ll be fine. Promised I would never waste my time tryna get it right…

As captivating as it is charming – and utterly disarming – McCall’s music is best listened to with an open heart and your best set of headphones. An intense sonic and emotional tapestry, the alt-pop artist’s debut album is beautifully radiant, charismatic. and stunningly raw: A visceral and vulnerable experience, …to be a dream… shakes the listener awake with catchy, colorful, and cathartic upheavals, anthems, and revelries. It’s an exhilarating eight-track reckoning through the depths of self-reflection, growth, and self-discovery, finding McCall come into her own as a truly singular voice in the indie and alternative music space.

...to be a dream... - McCall
…to be a dream… – McCall
Sped through the red light
Got nowhere to be, but I’m
Tired of waiting
Flashes of hindsight
That back winded street, that guy
Wouldn’t stop speeding
I was just paranoid
I said a prayer for us, just in case
Cause he had been drinking a bit and he
Seemed so angry
But you were so nice
You couldn’t not be
Silence, the passage of time is short
Silence, the passage of time is short
Oh, you burned into my mind
I didn’t notice at the time
I haven’t called and I don’t know why
But I probably won’t

Independently released July 15, 2022, …to be a dream… is a trailblazing package of alt-pop passion and feverish, soul-stirring feeling. McCall Kimball’s achingly expressive debut album arrives just shy of two years after the Atlanta-born, LA-based singer/songwriter established herself as an “artist to watch” through her 2020 sophomore EP, On Self Loathing. “A breathtaking, emotionally draining, dramatic entity unto itself, On Self Loathing is a stunningly vulnerable, sonically jarring deep dive into the artist’s heart and soul,” Atwood Magazine wrote at the time, further praising McCall as singular in nature, substance, style, and sound. “Arresting experimental and alt-pop music make for an energizing, euphoric experience… 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.”

McCall © Ren Shelborne
McCall © Ren Shelborne



On Self Loathing acts as a fitting musical and thematic predecessor to …to be a dream…; McCall worked with producer Bobby Rethwish on both projects, elevating her songwriting on the latter album to capture a larger slice of her identity while expanding the depths and possibilities of her artistry.

“I feel like this album really completes the circle I began with On Self Loathing,” McCall tells Atwood Magazine. “It goes deeper into the depression I was feeling at the time with a more mature and less self-indulgent lens, and I think it shows little bits of lots of different parts of me. It has elements of “the depressed songwriter” that you met in the EP, it has a more light-hearted, energetic pop girlie element to it, and it has really aggressive and experimental moments throughout it.”

“The album follows themes of strained relationships between friends, family, and partners,” she adds. “I realized that my self-hatred (as detailed on previous EP) did not exist in a vacuum. Because I’m exceptionally hard on myself, it felt natural to set rigorous standards for the people in my life as well. I was quick to hurt someone’s feelings under the guise of ‘tough love.'”

McCall's 'On Self Loathing' EP Is a Stunning Tapestry of Vulnerable, Electrifying Music

:: ARTIST TO WATCH ::



A coming-of-age project if ever there was one, …to be a dream… is brooding, introspective, and ultimately transformative: McCall creates in her music meaningful spaces for self-growth as she examines herself up-close and from a distance, ultimately finding (or creating) ways of breaking free “from the harsh scrutiny of [her] own mind,” to quote the artist.

Deeper, I thought we ran deeper than this
Say you’ll never let me fade away
Whisper my name on the edge of your bed
I hear you, I still hear your voice in my head
But I only see you out with your new friends
Living through their blurry images
And I’m sure you’re fine, I know it
I don’t cross your mind
I liked you better when we talked
You smoke your cigs and I’ll walk
You back to the people you came with
I liked you before you were famous
Tell me, is this what you want?
Do you miss the friends you cut off?
‘Cause I have been missing you lately
I liked you before you were famous




McCall © Ren Shelborne
McCall © Ren Shelborne

Achingly intimate though its subject matter may often be, McCall’s album runs a vast gamut of emotion, sound, structure, and substance. 

The record kicks into high gear right away with opener (and lead single) “Famous,” a glistening n’ glitchy introduction that sets a thrilling and incredibly immersive scene. A contemplative eruption of distance and loss – in particular, connection and disconnect in relationships, and the growing rifts younger generations are experiencing through the continued rise and proliferation of social media – “Famous” is charming, disarming, and unapologetic. McCall sings soulfully atop a thrilling instrumental backdrop (a musical smorgasbord of sound), her voice conveying the bittersweet taste of heartache and pain as she addresses a one-time close friend: “I liked you better when we talked, you smoke your cigs and I’ll walk you back to the people you came with, I liked you before you were famous…

“McCall channels the intimacy one might share with a close friend into her vocal, musical, and lyrical performance, leaving us listeners feeling like we’ve been privileged to join her inner sanctum,” we wrote earlier this year, adding this song to our 59th Editor’s Picks. “She holds nothing back, treating ears and hearts alike to an enchanting buffet that (once again) leaves no doubt in our minds about her limitless potential.”

Further highlights include the vulnerable reeling “Perfect Timing,” the sleek and suave pop song “Passive Aggressive,” and the entrancing, emotionally mature “What Then.”

“I think ‘Perfect Timing’ will be my favorite for a little while, because now I’m in the era of the album where I finally get to play it all live, and that one is definitely my favorite to play live,” McCall explains. “It’s also the closest song to how I’m feeling these days, which is bubbly and excited and not taking things so seriously and most of the album is… not that,” she laughs. “So right now, ‘Perfect Timing’” But ‘Alone with You’ also slaps!”

Father John in the morning
Like you wrote it
Cheek to chest in the city
Subtle moments, I
Pray a lapse in my memory
Will erode them down
Bathe me in light
Leave me in the morning
I’ll be fine
Promised I would never waste my time
Tryna get it right
I know there’s never perfect timing
Beat the sun by a minute
Early riser
Grab the bag that you left
Waiting outside
I take a moment of silence
Turning back around




McCall © Haley Minyoung Kreofsky
McCall © Haley Minyoung Kreofsky

As a lyrically forward artist, she cites the second verse of album closer “Easy” as a personal favorite line. “[That] stands out to me because it expresses a sentiment that I’ve heard every single person working in music say.”

“Boulevards and boardwalks
Felt myself getting drowned out in the cheap talk
Felt like if I didn’t suffer, I was worth nothing
I’d pay for it, one way or another.”

“It’s amazing that everyone has the ability to release music to DSPs and promote them (mostly) for free via social media, but it also leads to a lot of noise and a lot of comparisons. Even the biggest stars get drowned out in the endless sea that is the internet, and a “like” on a TikTok is such a cheap way to measure what your music means to people. Some people could see your video, watch a few seconds of it, like it thinking they’ll come back to it later, and then never hear, see, or think about you ever again. But some people might see your video and it inspires them, or becomes their new favorite song, or changes their career path – but the “likes” look the same from the other side of the screen. So it’s easy to feel like you’re spinning your wheels into the ground, especially when the industry side places more emphasis on the metrics than how engaged your individual fans are.”

The album’s epic, dazzling, and dynamic finale, “Easy” represents an unshackling of sorts: A freedom from the weight and worries McCall expresses throughout the preceding seven tracks. “Addicted to the sadness,” she sings with clarity and a refreshed, renewed perspective. “So desperate, so tragic, but I’ve been finding my center, it gets better…” The song’s chorus represents a powerful moment of reckoning and realization:

I thought, to be a dream,
You’d have to be the death of me
I thought I’d have to end up bleeding
A silent, kind release
Right when I decided I was done
Then it all came so easy
So easy

“I pulled the album title from this song, because I think everything that had been tormenting me and taking me to this dark headspace can be summed up in the line, ‘I thought, to be a dream, you’d have to be the death of me,'” McCall says. “We’re sold this narrative of the tortured artist and told that you’re not working hard enough at your career if it’s not taking up every second of your life. While it is a highly competitive industry, and you do need to put a lot of hours and practice into it if you want to have a long career, I don’t think (or no longer think, I guess) that it has to kill you. I know that sounds silly to have to clarify, but that was literally my headspace for many years leading up to making this album. I was like, ‘I’m not going to eat or sleep or have real friendships or relationships because my career comes first and I’ll only be successful at it if I’m running myself into the ground and dying at 30 and if it doesn’t happen by then I’m going to jump off a cliff.‘”

“Like damn, dude, go to therapy, you freak. I’d be lying if I said it was AT ALL smooth sailing since then, and I still have days where I feel overwhelmed by how difficult it is to have a solid career in music, but now those depressive episodes look like ‘I should go back to college and do music as a hobby’ rather than ‘I should die if music can’t be my career,’ so… baby steps.”

“Easy” is the charged conclusion this stellar project deserves, finding McCall owning her full self and embracing the whole spectrum of life experience with openness and a positive, hopeful, forward-looking spirit. She leaves the album amped up for the future and ready to take on whatever comes her way, and in turn she imparts on her listeners a sense of excitement for what’s next.




McCall © Haley Minyoung Kreofsky
McCall © Haley Minyoung Kreofsky

In the glossed over, highlight reel only world that we live in, I sometimes felt like I was the only person that ever felt jealous, or bitter, or full of self-pity.

“I hope people feel heard when they listen to this,” McCall shares. “I put a lot of unsavory elements of myself into the writing on this album because those parts influence how I move through the world just like the better parts of me do. But in the glossed over, highlight reel only world that we live in, I sometimes felt like I was the only person that ever felt jealous, or bitter, or full of self-pity. So I hope people can relate to those elements of the writing, but also feel inspired by the parts of it about healing, and forgiveness, and having a good time.” 

Ethereal yet spiritually grounded, gritty yet clean, …to be a dream… is a remarkable musical journey burning with pure, heartfelt, and unadulterated passion. It’s the kind of LP that demands to be listened to in full as one cohesive project, and yet its songs stand out as inimitable worlds unto themselves. Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside McCall’s …to be a dream… with Atwood Magazine as she goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of her debut album!

— —

:: stream/purchase …to be a dream… here ::
Stream: ‘…to be a dream…’ – McCall



:: Inside …to be a dream… ::

...to be a dream... - McCall

— —

FAMOUS

We’d been passing demos back and forth for a couple months prior to this, but “Famous” was the first song Bobby and I worked on in person for the album. This one was definitely the most fun to make because we were still finding our footing and didn’t have any expectations. We didn’t even know we were making an album when we started this song, we were just sitting up in his cabin making songs. I’d been working on past demos of this song for three years before we finally got together and made this version, and everything just clicked. I was thinking about the meme of hipsters getting mad when they knew a band before they got famous, and I thought it would be a cheeky spin to make it about a person you actually knew. Heightening the stakes from scorned fan to scorned lover felt like a more interesting story to me.



PERFECT TIMING

Perfect Timing was the last song we made for the album, and it’s definitelyyyy my favorite. This was another one I had made a few versions of before bringing it to Bobby Rethwish, and it’s so funny to go back now and listen to the original demos vs what it ended up being. We had made a version of this one early in the album process that I loved, but the project file corrupted and we lost all of it. At the time, I was devastated because I never thought we’d be able to top that version of it, but in the end I’m sooooo fucking happy we lost it because the final version is nothing like it and so so so much better.



HAIR SALON GOSSIP

This was one of those lucky songs that came out of my mouth and onto paper fully formed. I’d been re-writing and tweaking every other song on the album so much, but this one stayed pretty true to form from demo to final version. Probably because everything I referenced in the song actually happened, I didn’t need to grasp at imaginary scenarios to fill in the story. I had been crying in a hair salon, talking about an old friend’s funeral a few months before, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Then a week later, while I was thinking about that conversation, I ran a red light and didn’t even realize until I was getting honked at in the middle of the intersection. All these little memories from high school started popping into my head over the next few days, so by the time I sat down to write it, everything was there already.



PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE

I wrote this song over four years ago now, so it feels surreal that it’s actually out in the world. I wrote it in a cabin on a writing retreat that my friends had organized in Mt. Shasta, CA. Actually, now that I say that, I’m realizing that over half of the songs on this album were either written in or produced in a cabin. Weird. Anyway, because I’d had this song for so long, it felt silly to me by the time we sat down to make the final version, so we tried to keep that light-heartedness in it. Passive aggression is such a petty and stupid way to communicate, so I wanted the song to feel petty and stupid as well.

TIES

This was definitely an “I just need to vent” song, and I never ever thought I would release it, but I played the little bit that I had of it for Bobby and he convinced me it was good enough to put it on the album. I wrote it during the first leg of the pandemic when I was feeling super isolated from my friends, and it was bringing up a lot of abandonment issues I had been trying to forget about. That feeling of knowing the people you love are a ten minute drive away but this invisible force is making it impossible to see them is so frustrating. It felt like that movie Bird Box a little bit. This song also includes the “haunted elevator interlude,” which was honestly just Bobby and I seeing if we could get away with putting something so heinous and unlistenable in the middle of an album that is otherwise very lush and beautiful. I think it serves as a good transition point to the B-side of the album.



ALONE WITH YOU

Okay maybe this one is my favorite. I don’t know, it’s so hard to choose!!! This song means so much to me because I think it concisely captures a very complex feeling. If you only listen to the first half, you may be led to believe that it’s a saucy little number about thinking about cheating on someone, but as the song goes on, it becomes clear (at least to me lol) that it’s a lot darker than that. Hopefully that’s cemented by the 20 seconds of me screaming at the top of my lungs, but hey, who knows. To me this song is about thinking you’re over a traumatic sexual encounter and feeling confident about being with someone new, but then immediately getting reminded of everything that happened to you the second someone new touches you. The pulsing notes of the production were inspired by Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” and I think it’s some of Bobby’s best production on the album.

WHAT THEN?

I LOVE THIS SILLY LITTLE SONG!! I actually wrote this song on the same day I wrote “Disaster” from my previous EP, sitting on the steps of a mausoleum in Austin, Texas. I had just written the chorus of “Disaster” and all of the sudden I saw an entire project, originally called “A Study on Self-Loathing” all at once. The original plan was to start the project in the height of a depressive episode with “Disaster” and then take each song through the process of healing and end with “What Then?” Obviously, that project ended up being broken in to an EP and an album and other songs and emotions were thrown into the mix, but I think it’s cool that my most immature, woe-is-me, self indulgent song and my most “get over yourself and heal” song were written at the same time.



EASY

This was actually the first demo that Bobby sent to me, way before we even started working on On Self Loathing. Going back and listening now, it somehow didn’t really stray that far from the original demos we had sent back and forth, even though we re-did everything and added a thousand new elements to it. I pulled the album title from this song, because I think everything that had been tormenting me and taking me to this dark headspace can be summed up in the line, “I thought, to be a dream, you’d have to be the death of me.”
We’re sold this narrative of the tortured artist and told that you’re not working hard enough at your career if it’s not taking up every second of your life. While it is a highly competitive industry, and you do need to put a lot of hours and practice into it if you want to have a long career, I don’t think (or no longer think, I guess) that it has to kill you. I know that sounds silly to have to clarify, but that was literally my headspace for many years leading up to making this album. I was like, “I’m not going to eat or sleep or have real friendships or relationships because my career comes first and I’ll only be successful at it if I’m running myself into the ground and dying at 30 and if it doesn’t happen by then I’m going to jump off a cliff.”
Like damn, dude, go to therapy, you freak. I’d be lying if I said it was AT ALL smooth sailing since then, and I still have days where I feel overwhelmed by how difficult it is to have a solid career in music, but now those depressive episodes look like “I should go back to college and do music as a hobby” rather than “I should die if music can’t be my career,” so… baby steps.

— —

:: stream/purchase …to be a dream… here ::



— — — —

...to be a dream... - McCall

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📸 © Ren Shelborne

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