Release Date: Oct 8, 2013
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
You can always count on British musicians doing everything with a heightened sense of drama. For example, if Anna Calvi had been born in America rather than London, her prodigious talents as a singer and Hendrix-inspired guitarist would likely have led her down a familiar blues-rock path. Instead, her self-titled 2011 debut displayed uncommon ambition consistent with her classical training.
For her second album, London-based singer/guitarist Anna Calvi headed to Dallas to work with producer John Congleton (a key collaborator on St. Vincent's last two solo albums). The resulting differences from the tightly coiled, cinematic sound established on her 2011 self-titled debut are conversely subtle and glaring. The Texas connection might be behind the distinctly old-school western vibe on songs like Sing To Me and Bleed Into Me.
It’s hard to say what’s the bigger accomplishment Anna Calvi achieves with her sophomore effort One Breath, that she takes the next step to a place alongside reigning art-rock drama queens like PJ Harvey and St. Vincent’s Annie Clark or that she recalls their work without ever obscuring her own distinctive vision as an artist. While working with long-time PJ Harvey collaborator Rob Ellis on her 2011 self-titled debut and St.
With a voice as fabulously stentorian as hers, it would be so easy for Calvi's gothic pop bombast to balloon into melodrama. But she's too smart and stylish for that, and there's nothing hammy about this, her exquisitely sweet and savage second record. Each song is coloured with a knowing intelligence and it all comes from her voice. On Piece by Piece, for example, she climbs to whispered, breathy heights, then falls to croon sweet nothings; while the gorgeously stormy and guitar-squalling Love of My Life has her roiling and panting like Karen O.
As impressive as Anna Calvi’s 2011 self-titled debut was, all stormy operatics and gothic romance, the 32-year-old was dogged somewhat by comparisons to Jeff Buckley and PJ Harvey. The Londoner’s follow-up isn’t going to see those comparisons vanish completely, as lead single ‘Eliza’ demonstrates. But elsewhere on ‘One Breath’, particularly on the rhythmic and complex ‘Carry Me Over’, Calvi has created something all her own.
On her 2011 Mercury-nominated debut, bewitching, guitar-slinging Brit Anna Calvi delivered enough atmosphere to terraform her own planet. Elegant and poised, yet undeniably coiled and ready to strike at the first sign of a threat, songs like "Desire," "Suzanne & I," and "Blackout" sounded like a radio caught between Roy Orbison's "Crying" and PJ Harvey's "Man-Sized. " One Breath, her intoxicating sophomore outing, picks right up where her eponymous first impression left off, offering up a pair of fevered, reverb-drenched, bordello-rock gems in "Suddenly" and "Eliza," before shifting gears with the icy and elliptical "Piece by Piece," one of several tracks that owe more than a cursory nod to the punchy, overcast minimalism of late-period Scott Walker.
According to its maker, One Breath was inspired by "the moment before you've got to open yourself up". Calvi's voice, however, is anything but cautious, and often resounds like Boudicca addressing the troops. Still touching on the themes of lust, love and death, her new material amps up the theatricality of passion and sadness, and abandons the Ennio Morricone-aping of her 2011 release in favour of more contemporary experimentation.
Anna Calvi’s second album pulls off a none-too-easy trick. It manages to be instantaneously familiar while demonstrating enough differences to avoid the suggestion of its maker being a horse with a paucity of manoeuvres.Which, let’s face it, could easily have happened. That’s the problem with having such recognisable traits - people do tend to associate you with them.
With her petite frame and striking, luminous beauty, on first glance Anna Calvi looks like she would be more at home on the front cover of a fashion magazine than wielding a guitar on stage. Yet her eponymous debut album – one of 2011’s finest – introduced a significant new presence on to the British independent scene. Like Patti Smith and PJ Harvey, to whom she has understandably often been compared, Calvi combines dense, atmospheric musical textures with passionate vocals and lyrics that are often confrontational and raw.
The pressure of a successful sophomore release has crushed a veritable legion of artists. Suffice it to say that the tepid waters of the sophomore album grow downright frigid for an artist that has enjoyed the sort of debut success British songstress Anna Calvi has. Strapped with the praise of champions including the likes of the legendary Brian Eno, Calvi’s star rose to what some might consider a dangerously lofty status for such a fresh face.
Ahead of this year's Mercury prize, DiS in partnership with Naim Audio's new wireless music system, mu-so, will help you GoDeeper into 2014's nominated albums. Today, we would like to turn your attention to the blues-rock hurricane that is two times nominee Anna Calvi. This review originally appeared on DiS last October when the album was released. Visit our Mercury mini-site for our collection of her best covers, plus more coverage of all of this year's nominees.
Anna Calvi is a bit difficult to place among her peers. The art-rock experiment that was Anna Calvi was much-feted by the British awards press, adopted by the Paris fashion scene and surprisingly robust in sales but had neither the broad appeal of Adele nor the tasteful artiness of James Blake or pre-established icon status of PJ Harvey, the Mercury Prize co-nominees closest to her league. Calvi has much more in common with debuts like Jesca Hoop’s Kismet, Bat for Lashes’ Fur and Gold or Society of Imaginary Friends’ Sadness is a Bridge to Love: a classically trained artist (Calvi studied guitar and violin at university for years before her solo career) with big-name fans (Calvi's include Nick Cave and Brian Eno), Calvi is an artist whose sound and influences are theatrical in the sweeping, near-operatic sense and whose arrangements are dense and knotty and take time to unfurl.
It’s hard to say what is more ferocious on Anna Calvi’s new album: her voice, her guitar, or the interplay between the two of them. Together they launch a formidable assault on “One Breath,” the jagged sophomore release by this English singer-songwriter. Calvi is fond of loud, abrasive riffs that suddenly pull back to show the bones of a song, just the sound of her panoramic voice wrapped around her serpentine electric guitar.
Twickenham’s own Anna Calvi, had an eponymous debut outing that shimmied through the shipwrecks of tragedy, hydrochloric lust and the shivering bones of the Grim Reaper, and its follow up One Breath is reluctant to let those themes settle in any form of resting place. Calvi returns to the scenes of her most infamous crimes, but with designs to unleash hell; her second LP does tread familiar thematic territory, but now she’s got the cojones to do it via swaggering Freddie Mercury-esque struts, the delirious grandeur of Matt Bellamy in the deepest trenches of his megalomania and the sheer gothicity of the new class of dark-pop like Nadine Shah, Chelsea Wolfe or Anna Von Hausswolff. Everything’s just turned up to 11: the louds are louder and the quiets quieter.