Wednesday, September 05, 2012


Anja McCloskey has a distinctive and far-from-average background: a German-American accordion player raised in Northern Germany and based in Southampton for the last decade. She is also a well-seasoned musician – moving from childhood orchestral playing to two previous UK bands (“
avant-garde performance orchestra The Irrepressibles and folk-rock trailblazers Haunted Stereo”). Despite her debut album "An Estimation" being released on alt-folk independent label Sotones, she was first introduced to me as "if you like Sharon van Etten...". And indeed she straddles both these reference points, from moody, thoughtful baroque-pop through to earthy folk polkas and more.

The twelve track album, released on CD and digitally, starts with a rousing, strident flourish: the thickly European, almost Balkan, instrumental stomp of 'Decision'. For the remaining tracks, McCloskey and her band - double bass, violin, electric and acoustic guitar alongside the accordion - keep these wild gypsy cabaret impulses more in check to provide a tense, compressed underscore. The energetic wheeze of the accordion, the dramatic twitching of the violin and the insistent percussive tap all contrast with McCloskey's sweeping, romantic tones – although I did get swept up in mood rather than lyrics for many songs.

The songs are a cohesive, balanced collection, a set of well-ordered folk-dances that appear alike on first encounter but slowly reveal the subtle differences in tempo, mood and pattern. Amongst the slower numbers are the eerie glide of ‘Tornado’, the sighing poignant drone of ‘And Her Head’ and the regal piano of ‘Tagetes’. Amongst the more continental, mid-tempo repertoire is the woozy cafe-bar chanson of tragic lover’s tale ‘Blinded By Blue’ and the jaunty ripples of ‘Italian Song’. Elsewhere the countrified, flightiness of ‘Instigate It’, the delicate mournfulness of ‘Quite Low’ or the alluring flutter of ‘Ivory’ could easily sit in a collection of femme freak-folk, antique or otherwise. Stand-out track for me and released as a single earlier this year is ‘A Kiss’ when the gypsy swirl, allure and danger previously held in check is spun out to dramatic effect.

“An Estimation” is a distinctive and highly accomplished record and one I'd recommend trying out. Anja McCloskey may not trouble Sharon van Etten in the Pitchfork hipper-than-thou sweetheart stakes but with moments like ‘A Kiss’, when you feel the passionate concentration of her disparate influences in full force, such a moment may yet come.

Anja McCloskey An Estimation [BUY]

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