From the dark intensity of the opening instrumental track 'Decision', Anja McCloskey's debut solo album 'An Estimation' pitches itself precariously enough to both invite and intrigue the listener but not reveal all. McCloskey resists any temptation to show all her wares in the opening salvo choosing instead to let us unpick each facet of this charming curiosity.
Anja, a German/American living in Southampton (A very niche demographic) loves "the deep full sounds and quirky noises the accordion makes". This is completely, and lovingly, expressed on the album. Anja uses it as her focal point but, is cleverly never over indulgent with the instrument, ensuring its allure is maintained.
'An Estimation' mixes revolving guitar riffs with looping piano chords and creates joyous dances and brooding ballads. There are layered harmonies and schizophrenic passages of dark, deep notes that vie with high optimism ('Buddenbrooks') to create memorable and evocative tunes. There is romance by way of a love letter to Paris on 'Blinded By Blue' and slow, sombre, sorrowful violins on the aptly titled 'Quite Low'.
Fans of the Yann Tiersen penned Amelie soundtrack will no doubt be smitten by the more pronounced accordion tracks. 'The Italian Song', 'A Kiss', both single releases from earlier in the year, and 'Tornado' in particular show off the peculiarly pleasurable individuality of the accordion. The latter track is a fabulous mock-horror affair. If Tim Burton had done the Hugo soundtrack it may have turned out like this.
There are points where the album does lose focus, where the additions and inclusions detract from the whole package; the country lilt of 'Instigate It' and the chamber-pop tone of 'Ivory' being prime examples. There is enough here, in Anja's songwriting and her accomplished musicianship, for there to be no need to enhance the overall package, especially here on her debut. If anything, McCloskey could have been more pushy in bringing the accordion passages to the fore.
'An Estimation' has much to appreciate and a little to frustrate. At times, it sparkles and delights with Anja's accordion and vocal working well to compliment each other. At others, it falters to reveal the flaws in this individual gem. Above all, it shows how good the accordion can sound, how imaginative use can bring great rewards and how underutilised an instrument it has become. Who knows? Anja McCloskey's debut may just herald a new dawn for the accordion in popular music.
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