Album Review: Anna Calvi takes your One Breath away

Anna Calvi’s release follows her Mercury Music Prize nominated eponymous debut, and nomination for Best British Breakthrough at the 2012 BRIT awards. Calvi’s follow up release One Breath has had considerable attention and expectations then, and it delivers to any sceptical of Calvi’s ability. Her second album is a dark and brooding record, constantly on the cusp of release, racking up tension and atmosphere for spectacular release at key moments. It is hugely compelling and hugely rewarding, and a standout effort from the artist.

There is a sense of growing confidence in Calvi’s voice on this record compared to her debut. Anna Calvi had some tremendous songs which showcased Calvi’s rich, soaring vocals (‘Desire’ and ‘Suzanne and I’ for example), but Calvi’s considerable guitar playing acted as a distraction and safety net for her voice in these tracks. Calvi is able to rely on her voice on One Breath, with the music being less guitar heavy. Full of intricate textures and more experimental rhythms and sounds (see the stabs of discord in ‘Cry’ for example), you can hear Calvi relaxing into her style and creating some astounding music. The result is absolutely beautiful and striking.

Part of what makes this album so striking is how dark the mood is throughout. Calvi uses the clanging of piano strings, thick string passages, heavily reverbed, static guitars and a deep throaty growl in her tracks, and the effect is quite moving. In subdued and quieter sections, such as the beginning of the title track Calvi literally breathes out her lyrics, and you catch yourself leaning in to hear closer.  You catch yourself again in the album closer The Bridge, where Calvi’s voice again drops to a whisper before the album winds up. The instrumentation choices are a great compliment to the energetic darkness Calvi’s voice creates.

This isn’t to say, however, that Calvi has hung up her Telecaster on One Breath. While the majority of the tracks have her skills in the rhythm and backing section, ‘Love of My Life’ is a stark exception. A driving main riff and virtuosic squeals and pips that Matt Bellamy would be proud of, this track is a superb accompaniment to her seductive stage persona.

As impressive as this album is, upon listening you begin to realise that this isn’t the best that Anna Calvi can produce. Soaring vocals, astounding guitar work and a mood that’s blacker than a priest’s sock, but there are only a few moments which truly blow you away. A few is good, but you feel like there are some wasted opportunities for playing with the heart as you want it to.

But a longing for more isn’t a huge criticism of One Breath. As the orchestral middle section of the title track demonstrates, this album is extraordinarily beautiful and affecting to listen to. We can only look forward to more from Anna Calvi, both live and on record.