Thursday, 10 October 2013

Album Review:Anna Calvi – One Breath


Getting the support of irrefutable musical heavyweights like Brian Eno and Nick Cave must be one of the best starts imaginable to a career in music. That’s just what happened to Anna Calvi, amongst being listed on BBC's sound of 2011 poll and nominated for the Mercury award for her self-titled debut album. The recognition made Anna Calvi one of the biggest names to emerge in the last few years, with a timeless style her voice manages to harken back to classic jazz singers like Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, who unsurprisingly Calvi idolises, not to mention her complex yet unflashy guitar style which at times manages to outshine her voice with its intensity.

This second album One Breath sees the singer/guitarist continuing where she left off with a complete sense of ease. The same bold and interesting song writing is here, alongside a wider palette of instrumentation allowing for an album that encompasses much more than on her debut. First track Suddenly opens the album with the kind of melody that you can instantly memorise before the song unleashes a great, soaring chorus to match anything from her first album. A short and sharp breakdown brings to mind the louder and more physical moments of Grizzly Bear, a band which shares her penchant for non-traditional song structures. The following track Eliza rides on the back of a momentous galloping rhythm never letting up the pace over its three and a half minutes. After a surprising arpeggio shredding solo things take a turn for the grandiose with a pentatonic riff that builds with all the splendour of an Ennio Morricone western soundtrack, with her voice another instrument as she cries out 'Eliza'.

Calvi has a knack for these big moments, displaying an affinity for the kind of orchestral pop that has long been out of style, by artists like Scott Walker. These cinematic arrangements and an acute grasp of dynamics make for an exhilarating listen, constantly taking unexpected turns. Her orchestral abilities are shown on album highlight Sing To Me, with its sweeping string section complementing Calvi's take on Baroque pop. The title track once more lets the albums orchestral influences take over for a lush and melodic extended outro and The Bridge ends with serene vocal-led ambience in a similar vein to Julianna Barwick.

Elsewhere Calvi shows how effective it use to use noise sparingly with the outbursts intense blasts of unhinged guitar wails on Cry whilst Love Of My Life stomps along atop a blues-ridden garage-rock beat before Calvi's distorted guitar, drenched in fuzz, dishes out an aural beating, especially at the songs surprisingly heavy centre. There are the odd weak points where Calvi is almost doing too much, such as on Carry Me Over which come across as cluttered with a string section, noisey guitar and what sound like a marimba all cloying for attention around a central drumbeat. Still, it displays ambition in droves though feels like a misstep in her otherwise very considered approach.

Whilst it doesn't sound as startling and original as Calvi's debut, One Breath is much more assured. It clear that she has grown in confidence, the crescendo’s are bigger and noisier and the quiet moments are more considered and spacious. What’s more the her sound still sets her apart from everything else around right now, sure there are comparisons, but she has achieved widespread appeal and acclaim without sacrificing any integrity or originality. With One Breath Calvi has taken the opportunity to explore and expand her sound, a wealth of new instruments are used through the album, but it never sounds like a huge departure just a logical continuation of what she had started.

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