ANNA CALVI’S 2010 DEBUT WAS A FULL-BLOODED, INTENSE AND DANGEROUS AFFAIR. THE BOLD SEXUALITY AND TURBULENT PASSIONS CARRY OVER ONTO FOLLOW-UP ALBUM ONE BREATH (RELEASED NEXT WEEK) BUT, IN HER OWN WORDS, THIS TIME THERE IS “MORE OPTIMISM… AND MORE DESPAIR”.
Musically, certainly, Calvi adopts wider and more daring positions, though opener SUDDENLY begins in familiar enough territory, with tensions mounting in the bassline’s heartbeat throb and foreboding ghost-choir backing before pounding drums and dramatic vocals offer release.
Gothic single ELIZA comes closest to the claustrophobic intensity of old – both tightening up and downplaying the frustrated DESIRE, perhaps. Encouraged by sympathetic producer John Congleton (Bill Callahan, The Polyphonic Spree, Amanda Palmer), ONE BREATH is a gratifying progression: more texture, more exploration of light and shade, of rough and smooth, than on her elemental debut. “More ugliness, more beauty,” as she puts it.
SING TO ME’s tribute to Maria Callas is all noir-cinematic atmosphere and smoke-lingering space, but the widescreen approach is never more clearly defined than on the album’s title track. Building from an unanticipated oily electronica and breathy whisper to the expected explosion of crashing percussion and operatic howl, the song instead collapses into distortion – most disconcerting – before an orchestral lushness sweeps in to do the heavy lifting.
ONE BREATH is painted with more care, much finer strokes, then. But that exhilarating vocal range – veering from defeated to triumphant, tender to trouble (and all points between, often within seconds) – still evokes the same crucial component of Calvi’s darkly thrilling art: the notion that she’s as equally likely to slash any canvas as decorate it.