Feature: Anna Calvi ‘One Breath’
Tickling My Fancy Music Selection: Beastmilk, Birds Eat Baby, Quiet Marauder, Ross McHenry
Playlists: Hip Hop’s Second Golden Age
Anna Calvi ‘One Breath’ (Domino Records) – Available Now
Despite the hardened and resolute, smoky-eyed, projection, Anna Calvi’s venerability illuminates like a beacon. Her make-up is applied in the manner of a mask or administered like battle paint to ward off fragility and hurt. Yet musically Calvi embodies an atavistic maelstrom of emotionally trembled anguish and hope.
Posing in a stoic fashion with a face that wouldn’t look out of place in a Napoleonic era lament – adopting the cloaked adorned role of the French Lieutenant’s Woman, left standing at the Spithead in longing resignation –, or in a bygone Spanish landscape. I for one find her a fascinating artist to observe; those purposeful, poised and deftly touched guitar caresses that produce a diaphanous echo (much of that down to the liberal use of tremolo and reverb) hold me captive. And now she is back, following up the much venerated and acclaimed eponymous debut with an equally if not superior successor, One Breath.
Though carved from the same musical palette, Calvi has also broadened her horizons to encompass exotic 80s dance music – or as I’m calling it, ‘sulky disco’ – and a dose of Karen ‘O’ yelp to those Orbison and toreador sorrowful blues.
That very same tormented soul of yore, which evokes the darker teenage requiems of Phil Spector and the plaintive quivered rock’n’roll of many a pained heartbreaker idol from the late 50s, still lies beating at the heart of Calvi’s pensive, elegiac, but somehow uplifting, swoons.
A haunted beauty permeates the opening catacomb recorded ‘Suddenly’, building from a methodical attentively cooed intro into a tumescent rallying hymn, a signature that resonates into the next track, ‘Eliza’. That triumphant, stamping call of thunder is this album’s ‘Desire’, though even better with its patterned tom rolls and a rousing whirlwind vocal delivery it is indeed one of the years most startling, broody pop songs.
Following in its longing wake, ‘Piece By Piece’ may begin with a Fluxus like orchestral tune-up but it takes direction from the very same soulful electro and ESG-esque bent that proved favourable to Calvi’s label mates, the Archie Bronson Outfit (on their 2010 album, Coconut) and less favourably with the recent Arcade Fire release, Reflektor.
Not so much a ‘wall of sound’ as ‘Phil and his specters’, on the ether choral – and occasional flailed guitar wailed -‘Sing To Me’ and equally chorister atmospheric, Gothic swansong, ‘The Bridge’.
Both sung with a cantabile soothing tone, beamed live and direct from the medieval sanctum of a cathedral.
Glaringly obvious though hardly a cause to dismiss Calvi, those often permeated PJ Harvey influences spring up throughout; either nuanced in the cracks, resonating in the staccato prods, or as with the gloomy sunken-eyed, bubbling, ‘Tristan’, adopted wholesale without any hint of guilt. And why shouldn’t she be influenced by one of the great trailblazers?!! It certainly doesn’t take anything away from Calvi’s own anvil-beaten, sorrowful, and erudite persona. It’s another iconic trailblazer who’s enacted on the South Seas chiming ‘Carry Me Over’, as Calvi channels Siouxsie Soiux whilst the Banshees and Echo And The Bunnymen (nee even a the Funboy Three!), enter an occult marimba and drumming circle to create another fantastical dreamy piece of Gothic escapism.
‘One Breath’ itself is the sound of a desperate Calvi, exhaling lyrics as if every breath was literally the last. Delicately sublime, the pitter-patter backing moodily succumbs to a panoramic cinematic scored string finale: a breathtaking, illuminating, finish that hints at discourse but promises joy.
Convulsive, salacious vocals whelp amongst the squalling bursts of shredded guitar menace on the caustic rage of ‘Love Of My Life’ – Calvi delighting in the gnarled extremes of raucous turmoil.
Pricking the relatively positive aura of what could have been a near-perfect second album, the last two concomitant tracks indolently drag to a whimpered conclusion: ‘Bleed Into Me’ plaintively drifts off on an Eno-esque raft of dreamy euphonious ambience, and the finale, The Bridge, has an angelic splendour which melts wearily until fading into the mists.
Far better to ‘breathe’ your last to bombast or a requiem, than a disappointing ‘come-down’, even if it is such an elegantly gilded one.
Calvi will of course, by now, be fully aware of and basking in the glow of critical adulation – the unanimous verdict from both the print and online press, for what that’s ever worth these days, is a positive one; the aggregate score being 4/5 – so one more perusal from the bottom rung of the ‘blogtopia’ will neither harm or exonerate. For what its worth then, a more punchier, expanded musical horizon has produced Calvi’s first masterpiece, and one of 2013’s sophisticated pop triumphs.
Tickling my Fancy:
Beastmilk ‘Love In A Cold World’ (Svart Records) – 2nd December 2013
Ahead of their debut album, Climax, surly Nordic post-punk outfit, Beastmilk, unleash this strafed guitar air raid, ‘Love is A Cold World’.
As to be expected, lingering hints of Bauhaus, Killing Joke and Jesus & Mary Chain rub up against ominous rockabilly twanged backbeats on the latest track to be fired out of the cannon of despair from the desolate glacier expanses of Finland.
Picked up on the ‘intersphere’ radar by the Salem borne metalcore band Converge (originally founded in 1990), Beastmilk were taken under the demonic ones wings and flown out to record Climax at their God City studios in Boston. Learning a few tricks from their miscreant brethren the band mix up a miasma of indie rock, punk and hardcore, under the banner of such endearing track titles as ‘Genocidal Crush’, ‘Nuclear Winter’ and ‘The Wind Blows Through Their Skulls’.
With plenty of time to pencil in the official release date on your calendar, allow the enigmatic apocalyptic rush time to sink in – you got nearly two months!
1. Death Reflects Us
2. The Wind Blows Through Their Skulls
3. Genocidal Crush
4. You Are Now Under Our Control
5. Ghosts Out Of Focus
6. Nuclear Winter
7. Fear Your Mind
8. Love In A Cold World
9. Surf The Apocalypse
10. Strange Attractors
Birdeatsbaby ‘Ghosts’ – 12th October 2013
Brighton’s ‘orchestral punk rock’ troupe celebrate the return of their siren, Mishkin Fitzgerald – whose recent solo debut, Present Company, did much to showcase her banshee aria talents – with the release of a new enigmatic theatrical Gothic single, ‘Ghosts’.
Led by a weeping pitter-pattering piano and the usual high production valued emotive prangs of lamentable yearning, Birdseatbaby may conjure up all manner of esoteric and dark imagery, yet prove endearingly classical and, dare I say, romantic. Even if the latest video is a rather off-hinged, revolving line-up of Halloween meets court of Marie Antoinette at a Dadaist salon, macabre painted figureheads.
You can read my review of Mishkin Fitzgerald’s solo album HERE
Quiet Marauder ‘I Want A Moustache, Dammit’ (Bubblewrap Records) – 13th January 2014
Bordering on lampoon the self-styled ‘anti-folk crazies’ from Wales, Quiet Marauder, sound like a satirical Super Furry Animals or Beta Band wryly observing the rituals of machismo on their Dadaist loony latest, ‘I Want A Moustache, Dammit’. Beneath the acoustic campfire bombast, and wide-eyed mooning, lies a lamentable discourse on masculinity and the desire to imitate its most lauded ‘alpha’ role models; in this case the inimitable, corvette bandit supernova lover, and famous mustache advocate, Burt Reynolds. However the song and its title are conceptually inspired by the much-lauded 1997 Harmony Korine art-house movie, Gummo, which features one of the many odd indolent malcontent characters repeatedly uttering in a deranged fashion that she “wants a moustache dammit, just like Burt Reynolds”, whilst chewing through a picture of the ‘said’ idol, to make her very own version of the actor’s fabled upper lipped coiffure.
This loose jamboree is ‘powered’, or should that be languorously pushed along, by the songwriting duo of Simon M. Read and Jonathan Day. Mildly raising their heads over the boarder, the Welsh collective aim to amuse their English brethren with a ridiculous four-volume debut behemoth in 2014. Men will house 111 songs of equally wild ravings and erudite jest; soundtracking the foibles and all too realistic failings of humanity; touting cornets and banging pots and pans whilst Rome burns!
Ross McHenry ‘Distant Oceans (Sampler)’ (First World Records) – 28th October 2013
Former helmsman of both the Afrobeat imbued The Shaolin Afronauts and more soulful gilded R&B revue, The Transatlantics, Ross McHenry offers up a further style change as he pursues the panoramas of ‘deep modal jazz’ and progressive experimentation on his debut solo effort, Distant Oceans.
On his travails across evocative vistas, the producer and bass player extraordinaire is joined by keyboardist/producer Mark de Clive Lowe, New Zealand rhythmic ensemble Electric Wire Hustle, Myele Manzanza, multi-instrumentalist and composer Adam Page and Australian instrumentalists Dylan Marshall, Jon Hunt and Luca Spiler.
Deftly touching on meditative jazz at its most visceral, the album’s instrumental suites elegantly invoke the less indulgent elements of fusion, namely the Mahavishnu Orchestra, but also draw inspiration from Pharaoh Sanders and Miles Davis. It’s the spirit of the 70s, re-imagined in another age; those wondrous imaginative plains and hopeful allusions to better times still unfulfilled, instead we’re offered the dynamic, almost organically connected, promise of erudite musicianship and escapism.
Celebrated on this very blog, the second age golden age of Hip Hop (defined by your host as the pivotal years between 1988 – 1994) began with the seismic ‘mother lode’ clarion call, It Takes A Nation Of Millions, and ended with the arrival of the Shaolin moniker super group, Wu Tang Clan.
That east vs west coast soap opera rivalry was at least meted out on wax, rather than in a blaze of heightened posturing and PR-stoked ‘drive-by’ shootings?
There was a time before ‘Amerikkka’s’ most blunted and vitriol-outspoken protagonists became household names as the sassy, safe street level punk character in countless urbane rom-coms and action flicks?
The Hip Hop LP blossomed from tenuous collection of A and B-sides to become contextual, conceptual works of art, a period that mirrored the evolution from jukebox jaunt 45 to ambitious long-player?
Let me jog your memory, as the Monolith Cocktail returns to those jazz rap, daisy age, afrocentric, ‘funk, whole funk and nothing but the funk’ days of Digital Underground’s Sex Packets, K.M.D. Mr.Hood, Monie Love’s Down To Earth, 3rd Bass’s Cactus Album with this celebratory playlist. Hackney to the Bronx via Compton and down the strip to Oakland, Black Radical MK II, Ice Cube, Yo-Yo, Positive K, Geto Boys, MC Lyte are all in attendance on this journey.