Toronto-born Annabelle Chvostek has come a long way in a dozen years. She started out her career as a wildly experimental singer-songwriter, dabbling in turn with electronica and jazz before getting back to basics with raw angst on 2003’s uncompromising EP Burnt My Ass. A couple of years later, she joined the ranks of The Wailin’ Jennys, and contributed four key songs to the group’s brilliant (and award-winning) album Firecracker. After three years in that lineup, Annabelle broke ranks, releasing a defiant and strikingly individual solo album (Resilience), swiftly followed by a typically idiosyncratic live album and then an unabashedly political set (Rise), whose passionate, joyful anthems of togetherness proved both lyrically and melodically accessible, to the extent that some were arranged last year (by Annabelle herself) for, and performed by, Toronto’s Echo Women’s Choir.
Annabelle’s tough singing voice remains in focus for her latest offering, Be The Media, but the feel of the album is very much back-to-basics, whereby she’s gone back to her indie roots, picking up a 1957 Kay electric guitar to supplement her skills on mandolin and fiddle, and re-enlisted her trusty backing crew (the rhythm section of Tony Spina and Jérémie Jones), while gaining additional creative support from partner Ximena Griscti. In keeping with this ethos, and in collaboration with Beehive Productions producer Jeff Oehler, she’s delivered a “live-off-the-floor”-sounding record that at times (notably on Inside The Scream/Screen and the opening title song) positively oozes VU-style adrenalin-charged rough garage-punk. Annabelle also rocks out aplenty on occasion, as on Say It Right, and makes out typically kooky on the neatly philosophical Black Hole and imparts a carnivalesque aura of Carnal Delights. At the same time, political commentary is not left behind, with Jerusalem forming a powerful adjunct to the Rise album.
The emotional core of the album, though, has to be the plaintive, simple yet intensely personal entreaty of This Night. Against which a reasonable enough rootsy-flavoured cover of Neil Young’s Like A Hurricane (the disc’s only non-original) rather suffers by comparison. Even so, Be The Media is an involving record; Annabelle may have described her earlier album Resilience as “a big complicated hug”, due to its warm enveloping nature, but Be The Media, despite initial appearances of spiky acerbity, turns out to be just as enveloping in its own way.
Review by: David Kidman
Be The Media is released June 1st 2015.
On Tour throughout May 2015 in the UK. Full details: http://annabellemusic.com/tour/
— Annabelle Chvostek (@AnnabelleMusic) April 28, 2015