on 16 October 2013
This second album from Anna Calvi is a step forward from her first (amazing) album, and explores new themes, textures and sounds whilst at the same time keeping the intensity, darkness and nuance of the original.
The album kicks off with the impressive "Suddenly", which is a sweet and perfect opening number, with its pretty harmonies and thudding organ-based bassline. We then kick up a gear to the galloping opening single "Eliza". Things then take a departure from Anna's previous songs with "Piece by Piece". It starts with crackling of electronic plucking sounding like someone dragging a hairbrush across a plastic ruler before moving to a spare electronic beat with random squelching. "Cry" carries on with the electronic approach, aided by some gentle maraca, and sparse organ. Things march on impressively with the flawless "Sing To Me", which is possibly the most evocative and perfect song of this or any other year.
"Tristan" marks a return to the guitar, albeit one played aggressively with a drumstick, and things then immediately settle down for the Bowie-esque title track "One Breath". this songs build up nicely, and then breaks into a pastoral string interlude.
"Love of My Life" shows Anna at her most feral, and is unlike anything she has previously recorded, even in her former punk band Cheap Hotel. "Carry Me Over" oozes atmosphere, with some seriously eerie vibraphone, and "Bleed Into Me" features some great backing vocals, before the perfect album closer, "The Bridge", comes along replete with church-like choir.
Anyone expecting Anna Calvi 2 will be slightly disappointed. But then they deserve to be. Anna was never going to make an identical album. There is a danger that this more varied approach could lose cohesion and a narrative, and sound more like a collection of random songs rather than a discreet album, and although that was my initial view, a few listens in my attitude has changed. I think that the album does have a narrative. It certainly flows from one song to another, even if the journey is more "rollercoaster" than "morning commute".
In summary, I actually think this is an improvement over the first album, and has plenty to keep people listening to it time and time again.
on 11 October 2013
This album is a fairly big departure in sound from Anna's debut, with the guitar no longer being at the heart of the songs. I'm actually quite glad of this, and I'm equally glad that for the most part, Anna has put aside her deep vocals in favour of more delicate, subtle vocals, that tracks like `No More Words' and parts of `Blackout' from the debut hinted at. Now I do love Anna's guitar work and I would be equally thrilled if she put out an album full of tearing guitar solos and fierce vocals, but the fact that she's chosen to challenge, rather than appease me (and I think, many other fans) is a much bolder move, especially for an artist who does have a lot of pressure, when you consider how well the debut was received.
I would say that unlike the debut as well, which had a very deliberate, state of intent kind of feel, that stayed throughout, `One Breath' begins rather casually. There isn't anything particularly challenging or exciting about `Suddenly' though it did hint a bit about the direction of the album, with the electronic touches and distortion. Still, `Suddenly' is a great track with one of Anna's best melodies. 'Eliza' follows it up and still, there is nothing particularly new happening, but again, `Eliza' is a stellar song and the climax towards the end is great.
It's only wasn't until I heard the disjointed introduction of `Piece by Piece' that I raised my eyebrows a little, since the live version didn't really hint that it would sound anything like the way it does. It is very focused on electronics, with a driving beat going through it that's almost danceable. Anna could have taken this song in a very poppy direction, but instead she fills it with flourishes of distorted guitar, strange electronic squelches and jagged strings. At this point I realized that this album was going to be something far removed from the debut, and indeed, I'm quite skeptic of certain reviewers who've written the album off of `more of the same.' I wonder if they just listened to Eliza and left it at that?
Next up is `Cry' which I have mixed feelings about. The backing vocals are wonderful, the lyrics are gorgeous, as is Anna's voice as she builds up to the final climax, though I do wish her guitar explosions were a little longer hear, since it gives the song an unfinished feel, though I do suppose it lives up to the theme Anna is going for with the album.
Sing to Me, everyone reading this should know about, and it's placing after the abrupt power surges of `Cry' is well placed. It adds another dimension to album, a very beautiful one I might add, since Sing to Me is one of Anna's most beautiful recordings.
Tristan is a favourite of mine. Anna's lyrics in this one are great, and I'd like to mention that her lyrics, which were quite standard on the debut, are much more interesting and better written hear. I love the power of this track, the distortion of the guitar, Anna's wailing, and live it's even more outstanding! Another loud rocker that I love is `Love of My Life,' which I wrote about briefly yesterday. It is distorted to oblivion, Anna's voice is barely discernible in the great wall of sound, but then suddenly it falls into this quiet part, before another abrupt end that leaves you wanting more. Unlike `Cry' however, `Love of My Life' sounds a lot more complete would I think, make an excellent single.
In between those too guitar based, powerhouse songs sits the title track. Now I was already expecting the sudden change into a string section, but I wasn't expecting it to be that fantastic. I love the build up to it, and I think the lyrics again shine on this track. I'll be very interested to see how this song is performed live. Another song which I'll be interested to hear live is The Bridge, which sounds like entering heaven, with Anna delivering her most sublime vocals to date.
That leaves us with two more tracks, one of which might just be Anna's best. Carry Me Over has so many layers that I could probably go on about it for days. It has that sinister opening, which evolves into a somewhat accessible melody, but rather than take it down that route, Anna experiments again, adding strings, more electronic distortion, some guitar, although it's used much more sparingly here than on the live version. There's also some nice piano work, not to mention Mally's excellent performance on the marimba, something I'd love to see performed live.
The final track is `Bleed Into Me' which does have that brooding intensity of `The Devil' from the debut, but I prefer this by far. It is mostly just Anna and her guitar, which is great of course, and I love the backing vocals and the climax towards the end. It works excellently as a bridge between Carry Me Over and The Bridge.
So overall then, this is pretty much a 5 star album. I can't say there is a single track I have major reservations about, which is something I couldn't say about the debut. I also think that it leaves Anna with a lot of directions in which she can now go. Will the next album develop more into electronica, or will she choose to go down the orchestral road, which both albums have been hinting at. Then of course, there is her guitar, which I'm sure she won't be putting down anytime soon.