Anna Calvi’s music is at times ear-splitting, on occasions unworldly, but always fine, beguiling and grandiose. She’s bloody cool too. But no one ever seems to notice these simple, unmitigated traits. Indeed, whenever the Italo-Anglo singer’s name crops up, what immediately springs to mind is the fact that she’s female, she’s hotly tipped (BBC Sound of 2011 – megawow!) and she’s signed to Domino (who apparently never ever ever ever sign female singers). In relation to the substance on this, her debut album, these lumpen minutiae are absolutely extraneous.
Opener ‘Rider To The Sea’ is sublime as hell, setting a Western-esque ambience with guitars Espanole-style. It builds and builds and builds before a climactic crescendo featuring a choir freaks us out a little and launches us into track two, the baroque ditty that is ‘No More Words’. Perplexingly for us, on this she encompasses vocals rhythmically reminiscent of the 50s, juxtaposed with shattering guitar blasts that would give the Bad Seeds a run for their money, alongside a saccharine serenade in her fabulous ‘ah-li-lah-lah’ refrain towards the end. Not quite as ambitious as the last Kanye record, but she nears that level of ingenuity and zeal on just one song.
The songs flow seamlessly from one to next, the highlight coming in (bound to be) future single, ‘Suzanne and I’, which veers from clattering reverberated riffage to cogent vocals which together conjure up a musical fight scene between The Arcade Fire, Sleater-Kinney and PJ Harvey. The idea is: epic, anthemic, epic, anthemic, epic, anthemic. This monumental capacity to overwhelm and at the same time entice is what this girl radiates but which no other new artist seems to be capable of in these times.
The end does not come without any altercations. What we get is the greatest closer of 2011 so far: ‘Love Won’t Be Learning’. It starts softly (in comparison; there is no Sigur Ros-esque soporific material here) but descends into a hazy, musical disintegration. An enigmatic guitar solo which swerves and screeches underneath her vocals throughout and finally, a lively, triumphal singalong juncture confirm her place as the best handler of the musical axe and voice around. As a complete entity, this is a sublime debut. Get it now.
From Huw Oliver.