10 October 2014

Anna Calvi - One Breath

Forget the tips for the Mercury Prize 2014, it's best to let your ears and an impartial mind do the judging, because I am aware that a certain Damon Albarn (Eddie Carter's pet peeve by the way) is apparently the runaway favourite this year. But of course, we all know the other 11 nominees aren't there to make up the numbers, and I'd like to think that Mercury champions the cause tirelessly for other and lesser known acts to make the breakthrough for the success they no less have deserved.

Twickenham born and bred Anna Calvi has been raised up on a thoroughly musical diet, well educated family and has collaborated with some noble peers in Brian Eno, David Byrne as well as Noah And The Whale, so plenty of enriching influences to draw from. My first impressions of this young woman is a talented and inventive chanteuse as well, her mid range vocals resemble that of an anglicised Chrissie Hynde and perhaps Florence Welch in the higher notes. And her classical inspirations are very much called up on a couple of occasions here in album number two for the musically endowed Londoner.

As said earlier, Miss Calvi plays many instruments, but on stage, it's more likely we see her with a Fender Telecaster which she takes to with comfortable aplomb and has clearly committed many hours to learning over. However, it's not featured as heavily as I was expecting on reading her Wikipedia profile, but it does play a prominent role in several tracks. Judging by the length of the eleven tracks, averaging three and a half minutes each, I'm not expecting any heavy listening or technical wizardry, although I suspect the term sold by song could ring true here.

Without trying to commit a cardinal sin by drawing comparisons, she has a lot of scope and ideas in the mould of These New Puritans' Jack Barnett, but the first track Suddenly feels very simple if not too minimalist and more inviting than you might think. With a celtic percussion and a choral loop from the beginning, the first song Suddenly is certainly a promising start, even without lyrics in the chorus. Next is Eliza, one of her singles releases, it's a very catchy number aided by one of her original riffs, so far, everything running smoothly. Then it's Piece By Piece, a brief rough classical number, it's very Cure-ish, sounds stripped to the core electronica hooks and drumming, before a strings combo and distorted indie keeps it all not-too-basic.

The backup vocals are featured more in the verses of Cry, and Anna Calvi's guitar is put to work in various tones, stylophone and 10cc type, and she admits that she tries to mimic other instruments with the Telecaster. The backing voxes return once again in Sing To Me, and you know something? It feels like a very grown Bond Theme to me. The musical spectacle may not be present, but it feels very haunting and encouraging. Now, we come to Tristan, very Florence And The Machine running lines between the verses, it's much rockier and a bit less electronic.

At first One Breath doesn't feel any more enticing as its predecessors, BUT, and it's a very big but, it begins to build up in a slow boiling contained energy, till her violin leads kick in midway. At this point, we're expecting all hell to break loose, but then some classical pieces follow up to the end. Next, it's the indie flavoured Love Of My Life, well written even if the choral hook seems to have been borrowed of Lene Lovich (remember Lucky Numbers from the 1970s?). But in the following track Carry Me Over, it's a lot more imaginative, ably backed up by glockenspiel notes and more classical notes. At over five minutes, it's the longest track here, and some strings ring a different note to the rest of the chord. If feels out of place, then it was certainly done deliberately, as it takes art rock to a different parallel.

Final two tracks are strictly low key, stripped down and vocally dominated. Bleed Into Me is a Jeff Buckley riffed number equally shared with memorable harmonic backdrops. It's another song that wants to be etched discreetly into the mindset, while on the final track Bridge, the instrumentation is becoming less and less now. The voices are also becoming ever more ethereal, I do get the impression that Anna Calvi wrote this on a whim just waiting for the right moment to step in.

By rights, this album shouldn't work at all. In some cases, one layer feels mismatched to the other, and One Breath in all doesn't feel like the technical effort that I was somehow expecting. But on second listen, I guess I'm missing the point. One play of the album is not enough to fully appreciate the craft that Miss Anna Calvi applied to this. From an art point of view, this puts a fresh spin on things, it's delicate enough for its classical credentials yet not too heavily laboured, and more importantly, the freshness and its inventive approach is what swings me for this album. But that's exactly the point of Art Rock, and One Breath hits the nail on the head. As for its Mercury nomination, no less earned, but it's my hope that her more notable peers in the running for this year's prize won't have it their own way.

8 out of ten. Oh, now you have my attention, and maybe my money, time and heart.
Best track : Eliza

Buy One Breath here on this link at Amazon
Listen to the album here on Spotify
Deezer listeners click on this link
Anna Calvi Official Website on this link here
Official Facebook page here

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