New Bands Review: Anja McCloskey – An Estimation

The wonderful thing about music today is that it’s all getting closer together. There are London folk stars nudging American teen-idols in the charts, Icelandic bands barging their way across their world and Frank Turner somehow opening the Olympics, the greatest show on earth. So more than ever, music is bringing cultures together, and this is no more apparent than in the wonderful folk-stylings of Southampton based Anja McCloskey, a half-American, half-German accordion player, with her debut album An Estimation.

From the off, it is obvious that McCloskey is no amateur in this field; with her history of bands and solo contributions her CV pretty much speaks for itself, but I am, as you soon will be, thankful that it is her own project that she is now focusing on. An Estimation kicks off with the short yet frantic Decision, a fast-paced instrumental in which accordions and violins battle over which one can blow your socks off first. Once the opener has got your attention, McCloskey takes it down a notch and replaces vigorous strings for the soft plod of a piano in Buddenbrooks, which opens out into a song full of a ballroom type grace, Anja’s wonderful voice lifting you like a marionette, but never being without the subtle ferocity of a stormy sea. Italian Song, the latest single, is equally full of this mix, beginning with a twisting melody to spin your partner to before bursting into short accordion breaks which I can only liken to the feeling given by an abandoned, sepia-toned fairground. It has an eerie, worldly quality to it, so far from our culture, but wonderfully fresh.

There’s a wonderful consistent energy that runs through An Estimation, as songs like Tornado and debut single And Her Head prove; both tracks seem to power along with a light, floating charm, but holding same dark undertone that seems to characterise this album. Stand-out track Instigate It, the exception from the dark streak, is packed with a cacophony of elevating instrumentals and a resonant chorale, which, with its irresistibly uplifting sound, is joyful enough to balance out the abundance of darker songs, which flourish freely throughout the rest of the album. The sound created on A Kiss, the second single released, takes me back to childhood, when you’re at the seaside and those odd, wooden machines are spinning and turning, making that mesmerising pipe music. It is, of course, the sound of Anja and her accordion in full flow as A Kiss battles between dark and light, lifting you up with her soaring vocals before dropping you into the beating of drums as she forebodingly explains ‘a kiss is not enough to save you from what will come next’. And what does come next is the light sound of piano keys in Ivory, which, as dainty as they sound, are quickly taken over by McCloskey’s powerful voice, which is full of mature control and unique intonations which rise and fall in complete tandem with the carefully layered instruments.

I can only think of describing this album as Dracula-like. It has a charming, upstanding grace to it, lulling you softly under its spell, but, occasionally, when you least expect it, you see a whole history of influence and experience in it that puts you fully under its power. A mysteriously and beautifully unique debut, from a wonderfully distinctive artist, An Estimation is a triumph of an album, and I’m glad that music that seems so far from my culture has managed to find its way into it.

Josh King