Half German, half American, living in Southampton, Anja McCloskey is a musician without borders. Wherever you put her music, it always sounds like it comes from somewhere else. Maybe somewhere European, perhaps a bit Russian or French Canada or some Scottish island. Wherever it is, I’m sure it has impressive mountains and that they make good vodka there.
The songs on her new album An Estimation have a certain mystique, an otherness that it plays with, rather than plays up to. Whatever semi-imagined landscape the music is from, its international roots seem to me very emotionally convincing, perhaps closer in spirit to Gogol Bordello – with well delineated instruments and springy, gypsy-like rhythms – than to Beirut, to whom McCloskey is more sonorously similar.
Perhaps An Estimation’s title is another way of playing with this ambiguity, a self-effacing admission that McCloskey is no ethnomusicographer, but a sketch artist and oil painter with an eclectic mix of dyes. And let’s not get started on genre. Folk, certainly. But surely the opening strings of ‘Decision’ are classical, the swing of ‘Instigate It’ country and western, and McCloskey’s own voice somewhere near Regina Spektor on the spectrum of American mid-brow pop.
As the album progresses, the difficulty of pin-pointing locations on the music’s psycho-geographical landscape is matched by an ephemeralness that verges on the forgettable. But even here, in the record’s less cultivated outland, there are some lovely touches, clever little additions and graceful transitions. It’s well maintained and pleasant to traverse, if the lack of signposts make it a tad harder to tell where it’s headed or what we’re here for.
I’m not convinced that Anja McCloskey’s music quite knows what it is yet, let alone where it’s from. But nor am I convinced that that’s so important right now. An Estimation is a wonderful album to simply get lost in.
Words: Tom Moyser