Twickenham’s own Anna Calvi, had an eponymous debut outing that shimmied through the shipwrecks of tragedy, hydrochloric lust and the shivering bones of the Grim Reaper, and its follow up One Breath is reluctant to let those themes settle in any form of resting place. Calvi returns to the scenes of her most infamous crimes, but with designs to unleash hell; her second LP does tread familiar thematic territory, but now she’s got the cojones to do it via swaggering Freddie Mercury-esque struts, the delirious grandeur of Matt Bellamy in the deepest trenches of his megalomania and the sheer gothicity of the new class of dark-pop like Nadine Shah, Chelsea Wolfe or Anna Von Hausswolff. Everything’s just turned up to 11: the louds are louder and the quiets quieter.
On ‘Sing To Me’, for example, she follows her familiar post-rock structure of eggshell-china fragility to climactic, operatic dramatics. It begins a macabre tango – her oft-noted flamenco guitars/style rearing its head – and slowly, but gradually becomes engorged with cinematic ’60s strings until you’re almost completely certain that its the leaked opening number for the next James Bond flick. ‘Piece By Piece’, opens with tangled-web staccato strings and quasi-R&B beats, Calvi’s dusty vocals mimicking a lascivious axe riff; it’s like Haim if they dabbled in benzos, even down to the similarities between huge farty brass-bass (check ‘My Song 5′ by Haim).
There are times that are more reeled in though. ‘Cry’ leans heavily on Calvi’s golden pipes – not a bad thing by any stretch – with harmonic organs and a jazzy rhythmic pulse. Guitars occasionally thrash and squeal, but it’s more for a contrast than a girder of the song. ‘Bleed Into Me’ proudly presents tormented melodies amongst the everlasting echo of reverb-laced backing vox. It’s a hymnal cut, dressed with swampy fretwork and the morose keys. ‘The Bridge’, is a more experimental effort than much of the album. Mammoth, swirling vocals and synth pads all pirouette together, whisked into a brew by Macbeth‘s witches. Calvi still stirs commotion, but with silence and ethereal tension rather than snarls and volume. It’s short and bittersweet.
The other major facet – we’ve covered the epic goth-stomp and the maudlin tears – is her salacious side. ‘Love Of My Life’, á la The Kills’ ‘Cheap and Cheerful’ or Lykke Li‘s ‘Get Some’ is a grinding abyss of distortion, thumping rock licks and filthy, tribal percussion. It’s big, dirty, obscene, NSFW rock thuggishness. This debauched streak through Calvi’s noises aren’t as present as some other elements, but on nigh every other track there’ll be a stab of strings or a churning fuzz or a gasping breath that will just have you thrust into a world of goosebumps and blacklights. It’s subtle, but even amongst the operatic art-rock kerfuffle, it’s still noticeable.
Anna Calvi’s second record pushes her own boundaries – she doesn’t develop many groundbreaking discoveries or reinvent any wheels in the grander scope of things, but compared to her first LP, we’ve got something far removed. It’s haughtier, humbler, more powerful, more delicate; it’s like Anna Calvi was dipping a toe in the sea, and now that she knows that the world rather quite approves of her, she’s ripped the ripcord and is delivering the beast within.