Anna Kashfi - Survival

by Rich Morris Rating:6 Release Date:2010-01-25

Taking its name from the actor and wife of Marlon Brando seems a symbolic gesture on the part of this Manchester band. Kashfi is best known for the heartache and trauma she has endured over the years, thanks to drug abuse, custody battles and the arrest of her son for the murder of his half-sister and her lover. Appropriately, Anna Kashfi the band make music which ruminates of tales of domestic sorrow, usually with the focus firmly on the quiet suffering experienced by women. "I was born when you kissed me/ I died when you left," sings Sian Webley at the start of first song 'A Lonely Place'. It sets the scene for an album which deals mainly in slow, mournful folk music, often sounding burdened under the weight of its own unshed tears.

The sedate pace is unbroken for much of the album. 'The Loser's Prize' is an early highlight; an a cappella hymn which reflects the album's theme of love and life as competitions which are best opted out of. The pace picks up with 'Red Rag Doll', a trad folk jig complete with fiddle and banjo, a more bracing dynamic which continues through next track 'Devil's Bridge', a song in which a woman is convinced by the devil to build a bridge only to find herself trapped by him. It's intriguing to see this tale as a metaphor for marriage, and heartening that the woman wins her freedom by the songs end.

'String Loop' surprises by breaking free of the folk format for an excursion into chilly, disquieting trip hop which recalls Portishead. The mix of electronic hiss, Home Service strings and Webley's distorted ghost-in-the-machine vocals forms the album's highlight. Unfortunately, the genial folk of 'Bumblebee' fails to captivate in the same way, although Webley's description of herself as a woman as free as a bee, "pollinating flowers as I go", is another pleasingly subversive feminist message.

Elsewhere, '1939' is imaginatively put together, sounding like post rock collective Godspeed You Black Emperor at their most ethereal, but its message of history repeating is rather laboured, while 'Chain of Command' is a seductively powerful blues workout. However, the final track, 'Church on the Village Green', which is actually sung from the point of view of the church, is too cute and twee by half. It's a disappointing end to an album whose willowy sorrow belies its inner strength.

Richard Morris

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