HER NAME IS CALLA- ‘Animal Choir’
Friends in higher places? A neater name? A London postcode? It remains a mystery what more Her Name Is Calla required, to collect the fame and the fortune that they’ve so richly deserved over the years. It certainly hasn’t been for lack of effort or endeavour. For more than a decade this beast of a band has composed some of Britain’s best experimental rock, playing it and plying it in new and novel ways, but instead of earning headline status, inspiring giddy critical reverence, or moving ever onward to bigger and better things, they’ve now called time. ‘Animal Choir’ is to be their last hurrah. However, while it’s a gut punch, and something like the end of an era to see them go, what a fine and fearsome hurrah this is.
‘Animal Choir’ is a dense, epic, adventurous effort. It mixes post-rock thunder with hints of classical, ambient, electronica, and the finest indie ingredients. It’s fit to burst, positively wracked with dynamic shifts and turns, but still, just about, manages to move forward with momentum and intent. It’s akin to the best work of The Antlers, Arcade Fire, and Animal Collective, but feels like an album alone, a remote island of a record.
Imposing opener, ‘Swan’, would be the rocks surrounding that island, jagged titans just hidden by the sea, waiting to dash expectations and eardrums alike. After a rising rumble of drums, it explodes, a wall of noise building ever upward but sounding exactly like something coming tumbling down. Percussion stomps and horns blare and guitars roar, and when the song’s single quiet moment arrives, it isn’t respite, it’s more unrest- only ominous cello and lyrics about judgment and damnation. It’s like a challenge, a gauntlet thrown down, a shaking ‘wake up’. And that’s just track one.
“We’re not done yet,” intones frontman Tom Morris on ‘Bleach’ and, for another hour or so, he’s not kidding. If Radiohead had written the same song people would be falling over themselves to call it a return to classic form, the heart of ‘Kaleidoscoping’ is the sort of cinematic melancholy the Calla collective have always been so good at, while ‘A Modern Vesper’ incorporates a fuzzy, pounding dance beat for a whole new wrinkle.
While parts of ‘Animal Choir’ can be immediate and instantly affecting, it will take multiple listens to unfurl and understand all of this. Moments of (relatively) simple, striking, beauty- the shimmering ‘A Rush of Blood’, and ‘Pyre’- nestle among shapeshifting, labyrinthine efforts, and several tracks where Morris simply sounds on the verge of breaking down. In fact, so intense is the poetry of the lyric sheet, and so powerful is something like the crescendo of ‘Robert and Gerda’, that the greater canvas they’re part of might never be fully understood. It’s nearly 90 minutes of a band laid bare. It’s too much really. But no one can blame them.
They might have lacked a memorable name then, but ‘Animal Choir’ is proof positive that the band behind it needed no more power, poise, or, most importantly, solid gold songs. Who knows how much essential joy and pain another Her Name Is Calla album might have contained but this is the definition of going out with a bang.