Album review

Anna Calvi

Since the release of her debut, self-titled album in 2011, singer, songwriter and musician Anna Calvi has not shied away from much merited success.

That first long-player was praised by critics and saw her receive her first Mercury Prize nomination for Album of the Year. Her second release, ‘One Breath’, was met with equally high praise and also received a Mercury Prize nomination. Calvi’s 2014 EP, ‘Strange Weather’, consisted exclusively of covers and featured a duet with David Byrne of Talking Heads. A prolific and impressive collection of work.

The summer of 2018 welcomed Calvi’s third album, ‘Hunter’. The album combined eclectic, raw and perfectly structured tracks with deeply personal and intimate lyrics, primarily surrounding the themes of sexuality and gender. This paved the way for her to receive a third Mercury Prize nomination, issuing her with the title of the first solo artist to receive three executive nominations. To add to her list of achievements, Calvi scored series 5 of one of Britain’s most popular television shows, ‘Peaky Blinders’, in 2019 which opened her music up to an increasing audience and elevated her status as a truly versatile musician.

18 months after its release, Calvi has gifted us with ‘Hunted’ – a reworking of her 2018’s ‘Hunter’. She has done so with the help of friends Courtney Barrnett, Joe Talbot of IDLES, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Julia Holter. It revisits seven tracks from the album and offers us the experience of hearing each track in a very different way. The songs are stripped of all production and are presented in their barest form, showcasing Calvi’s hauntingly beautiful vocals and stunning guitar ability.

Calvi chooses ‘Swimming Pool’ to be the reworked track to open the album. This song is arguably a highlight of Hunted – a solid 4 minutes and 54 seconds of sheer bliss. In her reworking of the track, Calvi keeps the majestic quality of the track by allowing her angelic vocals to carry the song. The harmonic backing vocals from Julia Holter allow the lyrics to take precedent over the hauntingly lonely guitar riff which flows throughout. Although this version of ‘Swimming Pool’ does not include the powerful musical, and vocal, crescendo that we heard previously in ‘Hunted’, it is equally as atmospheric and beautiful.

Throughout Hunted we understand that Calvi has not only shifted style and production, but character. Throughout ‘Hunted’, Calvi presents herself with strength and power – traits necessary for a successful hunter. She does so both lyrically and through her perfectly timed use of the crescendo, which give her tracks emotion and texture. However, in this album, Calvi has stripped herself of several musical guards and leaves herself vulnerable and exposed – open to be hunted down. We are given the opportunity to understand and appreciate the beauty in symbolism and the sonic difference between the powerful, and the vulnerable.

The track which represents the starkest difference is arguably ‘Don’t Beat The Girl Out of My Boy’. It maintains the raw, grunge sound that is present in Hunter, however we now hear this solely from guitar and vocals. Calvi and Barrnett’s harmonies weave together throughout the chorus, and repeating guitar vibrato becomes one of the most prominent sounds in the track. These aspects, alongside Calvi’s crystal clear vocals, make for hauntingly alluring track which prides itself as the staple of the album.

Anna Calvi’s ‘Hunted’ highlights just how far a selection of songs can change when they are stripped of production and sonic embellishments. The listener can now view the character that Calvi presents in two opposing ways, each as striking as the other. Her bravery to present these tracks in their simplest form has certainly paid off and proves, once again, that she is one of the most talented musicians of our time.