‘One Breath’

The same, yet different.

Perhaps a simplistic analysis of Anna Calvi’s second album, titled ‘One Breath‘ and released in October 2013, but one which encapsulates the musical diversification found throughout the album in comparison to her hauntingly beautiful self titled first album, which was released back in early 2011.  Calvi retains her hypnotising circular guitar playing, her baying and lustful lyrics and that passion fueled voice that is the trademark of her style. There are also shades present in this album, shades that reveal the artistic depth of Calvi’s song writing and musical organisation that hint at a virtuoso commanding the strings.  In short, then, this is an album that I thoroughly adore and recommend whole-heartedly.

At the same time it is also hard to describe how this album makes me feel.  There is no question that this is not a dramatic and, at times, a bombastic record, but that description would deny the many heartfelt and tender moments on the album.  It is the entwining of the dynamics of Calvi’s and her band’s musicianship held together with her swirling and passionate voice that mark this album as something as a beautiful listen.  The music certainly has haunting moments where Calvi’s voice lingers long after the last notes of the guitar have faded or the beat of the drum has been silenced.  It is this rich vibrancy and twist of nostalgia that the album leaves a taste of a faded but delicate romance on the tongue.

The hallmarks of the sounds of Calvi’s first album are all here, present and correct throughout the album but perhaps none more so than within the first two songs ‘Suddenly’ and ‘Eliza‘.  However the third track, ‘Piece By Piece‘, is instantly recognizable as a different sounding track with strings being scraped as a quick introduction, and a strong syncopated beat throughout the track heralding a change in direction.  The greater use of strings throughout the song signifies their overall use throughout the remainder of the album whilst the guitar work in this song and others (‘Love of My Life’) is highly reminiscent of St. Vincent, another fine singer-songwriter and guitar player worth listening to.

The unexpected snatches of orchestral sounds that are littered throughout the album make me think of Anton Webern‘s work, particularly Fünf Sätze 1, with the haunting atonal and unexpected snatches colliding with Calvi’s beautiful voice and guitar playing, but this all adds to the frenzy of a quite clearly strong and coherent record.  The strength of her voice alone could be enough to carry this album but when combined with her Telecaster guitar playing (never afraid to play lead or to use the sound of the guitar in various ways) it is a match made in heaven.  

Indeed the title track of the album, ‘One Breath’, which emerges after a dazzling 6 songs, builds and builds, rapidly increasing the taunt tension throughout the song.  It is reminiscent of the ‘Love Won’t Be Leaving‘ track on her debut album (one of my personal favourites) but, where ‘Love Won’t Be Leaving’ excels and flows into a beautiful and sonorous repetition of Calvi’s refrain, ‘One Breath’ breaks into an orchestral plateau of such relaxation that is comes quite by surprise to a previous listener of her work.  This is immediately challenged by the following song, ‘Love of My Life‘, in which the guitar tones become heavier and more distorted.  I can’t quite put my finger on it but it reminds me of early 90’s grunge in some way, perhaps a Sonic Youth track or even a Yeah Yeah Yeah’s track. (I’ve remembered now, it reminds me of St Vincent).

It is well known that when playing live Anna Calvi excludes a sensual and sometimes sexual charge, typically wearing the male version of the flamenco outfit whilst playing the guitar with a fixed intensity.  This clearly comes across throughout this album and her debut effort through the tension imbued throughout the songs, whether directly in the lyrics or through the dramatic soundscapes her and her band create.  In ‘One Breath’ I’d say that the deliberate use of of orchestral strings in a number of songs (‘Carry Me Over‘, for example) is much more pronounced and therefore much more effective, especially in competition with the sometimes jarring distorted guitar leads.  This may make the album sound as if there is no reflection or let up bu this would be wrong.  Calvi is the master of song dynamics and this, her 2nd effort in what is hoped is a long and rich career, is present throughout the album, playing with the listener, almost teasing her audience with when the song will build and explode or whether the tension will be kept in check.

To see when Anna Calvi is touring please visit here.

An excellent interview with Anna Calvi on ‘One Breath’ can be found here.