Following on from a phenomenal amount of hype and an appearance in the BBC’s Sound of 2011 poll, Anna Calvi’s self-titled debut album did not disappoint. With its dark atmospherics, her alluring voice and well-received singles in ‘Desire’, ‘Suzanne and I’ and the astounding ‘Blackout’, she ‘became a favourite with the whole ‘alternative’ music spectrum – constantly being played on 6Music, heading off on NME tours and becoming a staple at the summer festivals. Now, she returns with her sophomore album ‘One Breath’. Promising a bolder and more instinctive sound, there is a lot of excitement around this release.
‘Suddenly’ is drenched in a gloomy atmosphere that complements Anna’s impressive vocal range superbly. She sings ‘I stand on the edge of sadness’ while clattering drums falter around her in a Tori Amos/Amanda Palmer-in-full-breakdown-style, before the song veers into more subtle territory for its xylophone-led climax. Jangly guitars are also at the fore in the introduction to ‘Eliza’, the first single from the album. With pounding drums carrying the song along in dramatic fashion, this is Anna at her most accessible, with a light and melodic ambiance shining through the gloomy outlook. After just three songs, you understand that Anna is taking a more experimental approach on this album, especially on ‘Piece by Piece’, which joyously throws ideas around with reckless abandon. With its electro undercurrents, the song recalls Patrick Wolf’s wide-ranging sound and as the song draws to a close, it brings in a serene waterfall effect, that s gloriously interrupted by a thunderous effect of distortion.
Throughout the record, there seems to be an element of introspection in the lyrics with Anna singing about being in love, crying and a whole range of other important human emotions. Anna mentions a ‘beautiful world’ on the serene ‘Sing to Me’, while out-of-this-world effects lift the song towards another level as she appears to be longing for an answer to many pressing questions. With the strings also present, the combination of visual lyrics recall Spiritualized while there is also a nod towards Doves with the overriding atmospherics. This passion and optimism remain throughout ‘Tristan’, a track which has an instant, attention-grabbing sound and some confident lyrics: ‘We’re gonna do it and do it now’ and ‘As we rise and rise so high’, although this is at odds with the line that states: ‘God help you, Tristan’. The title track covers the subject of mortality: ‘I’ve got one second to live, before I say what I have to say’ and the absorbing production values really are noticeable as the song evolves into an epic slow build. It takes an unexpected turn at the 3-minute mark with a majestically orchestral direction that gently fades away.
There’s a touch of emo and aggression in the forceful and catchy ‘Love of My Life’, which sees Anna turning on her trademark seductive charm as, in between heavy breaths, she sings: ‘I’ll hold you down and I’ll hold you tight’ before discussing the love of her life. A new wave ending comes out of nowhere before one last grungey blast finishes it in style. Throughout the whole record, the songs take a number of astonishing twists and turns. Despite the unlikely direction sometimes, you get the feeling Anna knows exactly what she is doing and has taken the time to craft every single second of every track in painstaking detail. ‘Bleed Into Me’ has an Indian-influenced opening and ends with a cinematic soundscape, but this transition is seamless. With the vocal interplay between Anna and backing singers/layered vocals, this is a cautiously optimistic song that finds her opening up: ‘It’s my body that I trust deeper than my voice’ and ‘I can hear you moving on, like the tracks of a train’ giving the listener an insight to her feelings at the time of writing this song.
The dream-like opening minute of the closing ‘The Bridge’ makes it feel like an epilogue and the mix of high-pitched falsettos is very special indeed. Anna Calvi has taken another huge stride forwards with this album as her confidence, vision and multitude of ideas combine to a hugely satisfying effect. Broader and more self-assured than ever before, this record will make a late surge for a place amongst the top albums of 2013.
‘One Breath’ is released on 7 October via Domino Records.