Album Review: Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi

Sumptuous, seductive and a little bit scary, this velvety debut will stalk your dreams

When one of the most successful independent record labels of the past decade puts out only a mere smattering of work by female solo artists, you can’t help but feel that they’ve got something of a mental block. However, it seems that [b]Domino[/b] were just waiting for the right woman to come along.

[a]Anna Calvi[/a] is certainly that. Rather than the Brit School background that seems par for the course for any hotly tipped British female solo talent, [a] Anna Calvi[/a] is instead the product of a rather more traditional music degree at Southampton Uni. Evidently, her obsession with the multi-textured work of early 20th century impressionist composers was allowed to flourish there, rather than be dampened by lessons on how best to impress dead-eyed X Factor judges.

As such, Calvi’s sumptuously gothic debut is shot through with more references than an encyclopaedia. Thrilling and chilling in equal measure, this self-titled collection of 10 songs is perhaps the first great record of 2011.

Instrumental opener ‘[b]Rider To The Sea[/b]’ is an updated echo of the groove of ‘[b]Riders On The Storm[/b],’ yet stripped of [b]Jim Morrison[/b]’s macho posturing and replaced with a virtuosity that’s neither indulgent nor dull.

Vocals kick in, somewhat ironically, on ‘[b]No More Words[/b]’, where Calvi offers up a cut-glass English accent that’s a little sister to Sarah Nixey of defunct pop pervs [b]Black Box Recorder[/b]. This is the prefect purr that nuzzles up against her own take on Ry Cooder’s slide guitar and Angelo Badalamenti’s atmospheric work for [b]David Lynch[/b] across haunting tracks such as ‘[b]Love Won’t Be Leaving[/b]’.

The upshot is a more cultured and studied take on [b]Florence Welch[/b]’s baroque operatics. Calvi is a diva, no doubt, but instead of a speaker stack-humping, sparkly hotpant-wearing dervish, she treads a more reflective, refined path. Even considering such sophistication, she’s not afraid of an all-out hit, like the standout, chiming ‘[b]Blackout[/b]’. Her glistening croon is placed centre stage in [b]‘The Devil[/b]’ as flamenco guitar trickles like a waterfall that’s been wired for sound. [a]The Cure[/a] make their presence felt in the ‘80s jangle of ‘[b]Suzanne And I[/b]’ and she goes seriously Siouxsie on the thunderous ‘[b]Desire[/b]’.

It’d be hard not to draw parallels between Calvi and her co-producer Rob Ellis’s near constant collaborator of the last 20 years, [a]PJ Harvey[/a]. Yet while both women ooze an elemental kind of passion, Calvi is unashamedly slicker, especially when compared to Harvey’s earlier, grungier work. Like Harvey though, we have a funny feeling that Calvi is in this for the long haul.

[b]Leonie Cooper[/b]