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I first came across the name of newcomer Anna Calvi amidst cries of plagiarism, a little too much PJ Harvey/siouxsie su/etc, indeed on first listen of the song Jezebel I wasn't much impressed. Nothing catchy or new. But, I have never been known for a precise first impression....
A few months later, a friend was raving platitudes about this artist Anna Calvi and quickly placed his copy of her album in my possession when I did not agree. At first I started to give it some minutes while I worked away on the computer or other tasks, things that hasten to reduce the finer details of any music.
The first two tracks slipped by unnoticed, but within a minute of number three this enormous wave of chorus reaches me and knocks backs any distracted thoughts. Suddenly this artist wasn't so unremarkable, the track was called Desire and has quite possibly the most infectious chorus I have heard in a long time. It seems so strange, I repeat the first two tracks and find a sullen songwriter, capable of eye catching guitar refrains and darkened tones. But desire isn't dark or sullen, it feels uplifting and fun. Perfectly placed to open my eyes to the next few tracks, Suzzane and I's great stomping drums and rolling guitar blend with her warm voice.
It's not without its flaws, the second half of the album falters with only I'll be your man as a stand out. Blackout comes across problematic with the almost poppy "ooooh's" sounding very out of place.
All in all I now look forward to reading the date for Anna Calvi's next adventure
I thought I'd come across Anna Calvi for the first time when I was watching 'Later with Jools Holland' on TV last week but I was wrong. When I saw that yet another female singer songwriter was being introduced I wasn't hugely excited since there's a lot of these going around at the moment and they do tend to all sound the same but as soon as she started singing the intro on her song 'Desire' I realised that I was in for a pleasant surprise. This was a raw, quirky and gutsy sound not the bland overproduced forgettable trash that we are subjected to with depressing regularity these days.
Her voice was unusually melodic in a dramatic way but at the same time fierce like her appearance; long blonde hair tied severely back from her face, dark eye shadow framing an intense glare and bright red lipstick accompanying snarling vocals. Then I twigged, this was the same singer that I'd heard and was very impressed with on a little known single 'New York' by a now defunct band called Cheap Hotel.
Now, I was interested. After she played two songs from her eponymous debut album I couldn't get them out of my head, not in a 'Kylie' kind of way but more like a dark haunting memory intermittently surfacing from the depths of the conscious mind. I was hooked and promptly ordered my CD from Amazon!
So what's the debut CD from Anna Calvi like? In a word outstanding!
Let me rewind a little and explain a little more about the artist. Off stage Anna Calvi is a quietly spoken unassuming north London girl from an Italian family. She studied music at college and quickly began playing and singing in a number of her own bands including the previously mentioned Cheap Hotel. Despite their very good debut single (check it out on u tube!) the band didn't last. In 2006 she met percussionist and harmonium player Mally Harpaz, later she recruited drummer Daniel Maiden-Wood and in 2010 the three under Anna's name released a debut single, "Jezebel," a Goth/Rock cover of an old Edith Piaf standard. In January 2011 they released their debut album the self titled Anna Calvi.
This is where I might get into difficulty...how to describe the sound of this album? Well the best way might be to look at some of the obvious influences that can clearly be heard on the varied tracks. There's an obvious love of electric guitar, which is easily understood by Calvi self confessed love of Jimi Hendrix. Although her playing doesn't in any way resemble Hendrix's style she's not half bad especially on 'I'll Be Your Man'.
Calvi's others influences are very varied, in interviews she's listed Edith Piaf and Nina Simone among them. In contrast to her reserved almost shy off stage presence Calvi's on stage persona reminds me of the punk sensibilities of Patti Smith and Siouxsie and the Banshees, in fact Brian Eno a big fan of Calvi, has even gone so far a calling her "the best thing since Patti Smith". I don't think Calvi is as yet a lyricist to rank with Patti Smith at her best but her energy in performing and her obvious passion do certainly remind you of the punk era. Her look does not!
Her image is more 1980's Goth meets stylish club singer circa 1940. Her strong deep voice coupled to passionate lyrics about love and lust make for some sexually charged moments on tracks such as 'Desire', 'Love Won't Be Leaving' and 'Suzanne and I' certainly these seem to fit her into that darkly obsessed Goth Rock genre. At times on 'Suzanne and I' you could be listening to a more melodic track from The Cult's 'Love' album circa 1985.
The first track on the album 'Rider To The Sea' is a haunting instrumental full of guitar echo and a slightly retro 50's/60's feel, think of Chris Isaac or The Doors. Her vocal delivery on tracks such as 'First We Kiss' and 'I'll Be Your Man' at times even reminds one of Scott Walker! I hope you're gathering my difficulty in adequately describing this record.
A further clue to the nature of this album is in the choice of the producer Rob Ellis. He is famously the man behind many of PJ Harvey's best albums and PJ Harvey is certainly a soul mate to Anna Calvi. Ellis has tried to create a retro 'wall of sound' feel to many of the songs and to this end used old style analogue equipment in the recording process. This is most noticeable and effective on 'No More Words' and the beautiful and seductive 'First We Kiss'.
Picking 'stand out' tracks is difficult, this is an album that works as a whole and should be listened as such. From the very first track you'll find yourself mesmerised into Calvi's dark, sensual and yes, scary musical landscape. The single 'Blackout' and maybe the more upbeat 'Desire' with its insistent drums are certainly the catchiest tunes and the most likely to cross over to a mainstream audience but for me Calvi is at her best when she's brooding over the human condition and lamenting the world as she does on 'The Devil' where her voice perfectly accompanies the lonesome twang of her echoing electric flamenco-ish guitar. On 'Love Won't Be Leaving' the voluptuous vocals give way to a slightly harder hedge which gives us a hint of how much darker she could get. If 'Anna Calvi' were a film David Lynch would be directing!
Something also has to be said about the backing band comprising drummer Daniel Maiden-Wood and a variety of different percussive sounds from Mally Harpaz. They provide a great balance to the more ethereal sound of Calvi's lead guitar and vocals and give each track a very distinctive sound.
Overall this is a hugely impressive and unusual debut album. It's with good reason that she's getting noticed by some very influential people in the music business and the praise she has had so far is fully justified. The album has had quite some success in the UK chart and more so in Europe, the NME called this the "first great record of 2011" and on the back of the earlier success of the outstanding single release 'Jezebel/Moulinette' Calvi has supported at various times in 2010 Interpol, The Arctic Monkeys and was invited by Nick Cave to support his band Grinderman on a recent European tour. She was also included in the shortlist for the 'BBC Sound of 2011', which highlights new music of the year ahead.
Seductive, lustful, sexual, passionate, primeval, darkly intoxicating, at times melancholy but always emotionally charged this is how the music on this record can be described and this is what music should be about... Away with blandness and gimmicks, let's get back to music that raises the heart rate and feeds the soul!
Rider To The Sea
No More Words
Suzanne And I
First We Kiss
I'll Be Your Man
Love Won't Be Leaving
Audio CD released 17 Jan 2011
'Anna Calvi' by Anna Calvi can be bought from Amazon.co.uk on CD format for £6.99 of on digital MP3 format for £6.49.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Rider To The Sea
2 No More Words
4 Suzanne And I
5 First We Kiss
6 The Devil
8 I'll Be Your Man
9 Morning Light
10 Love Won't Be Leaving