Courtesy of Domino Recording Company

Courtesy of Domino Recording Company

September 13, 2018

TEST SPIN | Anna Calvi — Hunter

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Anna Calvi’s career as a songwriter began with the release of her eponymous debut album in 2011. Garnering nominations for both the Mercury Prize and the British Breakthrough Act at the Brit Awards in 2012, Calvi quickly gained recognition for her reverb-drenched guitar riffs and drifting vocal runs. Her euphoric sound feels quintessentially Brit-punk, yet her illusory vocal inflection feels oddly operatic. Before any success as a songwriter and virtuosic guitarist, Calvi was a classically trained violinist and didn’t begin singing until her mid-twenties.

Throughout her latest album, Hunter, baroque vocal harmony and ambient guitar riffs are masterfully integrated to create a space that feels more like a dreamscape than a compilation of songs. Calvi creates with a level of theatricality that simply demands more from her listeners. A looming dissonance carries her vocal performance throughout Hunter, as we patiently wait for that fateful, culminating moment of sonic bliss, where her wandering voice and tenuous timbre find themselves, if only for one blissful moment, as lush organs swell behind her.

Before the release of Hunter, Calvi took to Instagram to explain to her fans that “gender is a spectrum,” and her music tries (more on this later) to follow that same vein. Hunter’s third track, “Don’t Beat The Girl Out of My Boy,” serves as an anthem for androgyny in which Calvi’s voice careens through an overdriven guitar before erupting in a vocal run with both the tact and caliber of the late Jeff Buckley. “Let us, be us,” she screams in all of her calculated madness.

It would be impossible to listen through Hunter without hearing the influence of David Bowie and his final record Blackstar, which bravely confronted the transience of life and finality of death. Unfortunately, such a dramatic and ambitious sonic approach has left Calvi with a collection of lyrics that feel incomplete and banal. The overall looseness of Calvi’s voice paired with complex arrangements don’t leave space for instrumental synthesis with lyrical content that says much of anything. There is a skeleton of a project with the potential to question and explore evolving conceptions of gender and sexuality, but Calvi is much too focused on the aesthetic quality of her music, and falls short. Many of the songs consist of verses and choruses containing five or so words, and many of these are simply throwaway phrases. On “Swimming Pools,” Calvi sings “Ah the swimming pool, shadows of light / Shadows divide on the earth / Come down on the swimming pool,” and the chorus follows “Waves of desire / Waves of desire on the earth / Come down to the swimming pool.”

It’s possible that my formal education in English and literature has failed me and I may be unable to grapple with the calculated reticence with which Calvi writes, but I don’t think that’s the case. Her lush arrangements and creamy vocals only carry the music so far, and leave the listener with a delusively complete album. With that being said, give a listen to Anna Calvi’s new album, Hunter — her musicality is impressive, and you can see for yourself if you can find meaning in her words.

 

Noah Thomas is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at nbt22@cornell.edu.