I first heard Anna Calvi on one of Iggy Pop’s “Confidential” shows on BBC Radio 6. I don’t recall the song, nor when I heard it. But her music just crept up on me, striking one of those intangible chords … one I couldn’t shake, yet didn’t know why.
To classify Calvi as unique would be an over-simplification. She’s a virtuoso guitarist with a contralto voice, a songwriter of widescreen scope and persistent vision. Her music ventures through numerous soundscapes, defying specifics, embracing the eccentric, eclectic, and profound. And to pick one defining track would do a disservice to all others.
So I’m going to go with the one that caught me ear. It’s titled “Swimming Pool” and it comes from her brilliant 2018 album “Hunter.” I won’t even pretend to call it definitive or representative, as I don’t think anything I’ve heard from her sounds like anything else she’s written, regardless of what track it is.
“Swimming Pool” is a beautiful brooding ballad, filtered through a telescopic time capsule from the ’60s-’70s, with some sweeping John Barry-esque vistas, a subtle flavor of flamenco, and an operatic off-world vocal delivery. It radiates the aura of another time and place, somewhat familiar yet ultimately undefined.
Calvi’s another artist I don’t hold a great deal of familiarity with. But some cursory research proves she’s a force to be reckoned with. She’s been active since 2005, has an insanely powerful voice, full of passion and intensity, and can bend the guitar to her will, extracting such peculiar and elusive notes that would even make the likes of Adrian Belew proud. She’s also a big David Lynch and Wong Kar Wai fan, citing their visionary films as major influences on her work, which makes all kinds of sense.
Musically, Calvi’s got the map covered, exploring and conquering new territory armed with a musical manifesto of adventurous discovery. There’s a whole lot of rock, indie and otherwise, some sleazy blues, undertones of gothic pop, retro-future lounge, and a colorful breadth of sonic shades in between. Vocally, she’s a raw operatic powerhouse, conjuring the likes of PJ Harvey, if she were smashed into Nick Cave, and flanked by a little Siouxsie Sioux. It’s kinda messy, full of intensity, and slightly sexy, but in a darker, kinkier way.
“Swimming Pool” fits comfortably in the middle of said descriptors, but also isn’t defined by them. It’s one particular shade of Calvi’s experimental and experiential craft, cinematic in scope and dramatic in sound. And it’s as good an introduction as any to explore her broad and diverse catalogue of lyrical curiosities. Dive into “Swimming Pool” and see where its currents take you.
“Swimming Pool” from the 2018 album “Hunter.”