Several times over the last fortnight, as I've slowly got to grips with Anna Calvi's second album, I couldn't help but remember an apocryphal tale of an early Banshees rehearsal, at which the new boy John McGeoch was asked by Siouxsie for the sound of a horse falling off a cliff. Ever the gentleman he duly obliged, and went on to provide many more such equine disasters across much of their classic work. I mention it not as a lazy "she's a bit goff like Siouxsie" comparison, but to draw parallels with what is evidently Anna's fearless approach to sonic experimentation.
For anyone who loved Anna's debut album - and I did - there is plenty here to love too. That widescreen sound which calls to mind any number of technicolour westerns, Wim Wenders movies or Ennio Morricone soundtracks is still present in spades, most evidently on the sublime "Sing to Me", which effortlessly manages the most difficult of tricks; that of a song you feel you've known forever on first listen. Hushed whispers, dramatic crescendos, soaring vocals that border on the operatic... tick, tick and also tick. This time around there are lush orchestral string arrangements too, used to particularly exquisite effect on the title track as a release to the tension she herself has built up.
One Breath, however, is altogether a much grittier, messier and more visceral affair than its predecessor. There's a sense of growing confidence as an artist throughout the album, evidenced by Anna's preparedness to rip apart the very structure of a song, baring the blood and bones of it to us, and leaving the carcass in her wake. "Show me where it hurts!" she cries, before swerving to avoid the roadkill. (So THAT'S where the horse landed...) Even the sonic space itself, the one she constructs so meticulously, is abruptly slammed out on the intensely claustrophobic "Love of My Life" - the one moment I took the headphones off going "what the f..?"....before finding out it was already stuck in my head. Oh-OHH!!
There's plenty more - the one note in "Bleed Into Me" that reduced this grown man to tears, the ethereal angelic choir that dissipates like the mist... in fact I was quite astonished when I noticed the whole thing clocked in at just under 40 minutes; I felt like I'd been wrung out to dry.
Ultimately this album is the one thing I didn't even dare hope for - a departure, and a challenge. Yes, I know, that's two things - so sue me, it's half four in the morning.