Anna Calvi - One Breath


Anna Calvi fell in love with guitar at the mere age of three. She constructed a world of music: an escape from the first three years of her life undergoing surgery and treatment to correct congenital hip dysplasia. After deciding to take a degree in music, Calvi made the decision to sing as well, spending hours upon hours a day practicing in secret - her shyness preventing her from declaring her life path of music from the very beginning. After a friend of Brian Eno saw Calvi perform live at London’s Luminaire, he urged Eno to check her out. Thus began Anna Calvi’s musical career.

One Breath is Calvi’s second studio album, released on October 7, 2013 by Domino Records. Infused with dark and sparse guitar riffs, ominous lyrics that are hard to discern, and tracks that lack a cohesive melody, One Breath did not hit my musical sweet spot. Anna Calvi has the pop gusto of David Bowie and the gothic sentiments of Jack White’s more atmospheric efforts, such as The Dead Weather, though her delivery is weaker and more nebulous.

The first track, Suddenly has a heavy tone, but we can’t quite tell if it’s victorious or a cry of preemptive nostalgia: “I stand on the edge of silence/ Better confess, it tastes like I’m leaving.” Though these ominous lyrics could leave some listeners feeling pleasantly duped by mystery, it left me frustrated and desirous of a more concrete meaning.

I wish every song on the album could be more like the second track, Eliza. It seems to be the only track that embraces a melody successfully. The repetitive drum beat is the musical equivalent of Calvi’s (or the speaker of the song) tortured longing to be this other woman, Eliza: “if only I could be you, Eliza!” Once again, her lyrics are difficult to discern for a specific meaning. Calvi could be speaking of her actual sister of whom she is envious, her alter ego, or herself in the future or past. Regardless, she holds the idea of Eliza on a pedestal, as though this is the ideal person she yearns to embody and for whom she leaves her “soul behind”. The singing, or rather crying, of “Eliza” throughout the song gives Calvi a sort of Jeff Buckley edge, as she holds her vocal notes next to the piano notes, making them sing in unison. As her pleads become more and more resonant, so too does the desperation we feel as we listen.

Piece by Piece is reminiscent of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s 2009 studio album, ‘IRM’ with the breathy vocals and diminished minors. Unlike with Gainsbourg’s album, the medley of ethereal vocals, minimal instruments, drumbeat kicks, and synth give this track a gaseous, spacey air that never quite rises to anything either fully suspenseful or dynamic. The parts don’t build together and instead of being lifted by the song, I find the atmosphere it creates to be too heavy to rise and too light to sink into me, making it just sort of float by.

With its gothic, cinematic instrumentals and abstract lyrics, the tracks on One Breath seem to want to incite a climactic event in the form of a cohesive melody, but never quite reach their peak. This is not to say that Calvi is untalented. In fact, Calvi’s talent would have stood out more had she not relied heavily on overbearing atmospheric blends. I for one will most likely not be revisiting One Breath’ anytime soon, but I will surely keep Calvi on my radar as she continues to expand and explore in her work.

By Amelia Viner

The video for Eliza