Anna Calvi - Hunter

by Andy Brown Rating:8 Release Date:2018-08-31
Anna Calvi - Hunter
Anna Calvi - Hunter

The cover gives you a clue as to what you can expect. Here we find Twickenham’s guitar virtuoso Anna Calvi wearing her trademark bright red lipstick, drenched in sweat with hair stuck to her face and her eyes distant and thoughtful. Hunter is an album infused with desire, sorrow, and sensuality. It’s her first full album since 2013’s One Breath and one that finds Calvi throwing herself wholeheartedly into her art. The ten songs here present us with an artist both liberated and looking to liberate.

Leading up to its release Calvi has stated how she wants to go “beyond gender” and “explore a more subversive sexuality”. It’s an album about questioning pre-assigned roles and challenging expectations. Calvi stating, “I’m hunting for something- I want experiences, I want agency, I want sexual freedom, I want intimacy, I want to feel strong, I want to feel protected and I want to find something beautiful in all the mess”. It’s an incredibly powerful mission statement; the kind of thing that only comes from an artist truly invested and intertwined with what they do.

In some ways Calvi’s work explores similar territory to St Vincent; that sense of joyful subversion mixed with bold, defined aesthetics. Both artists have also worked with David Byrne. Where Annie Clark’s Masseduction LP used glam-tinged future pop to explore its themes, Calvi has created an album rich with rhythm and typically dream-like guitar.

Songs like ‘As a Man’ and ‘Alpha’ ride along on sultry propulsive rhythms, finger snaps, and Calvi’s consistently hypnotic vocals. Her guitar soars and swoops through the arrangements, sometimes holding back before exploding into life as it does on the superb, heavy-breathing swamp-blues of ‘Indies or Paradise’. Martyn Casey plays bass on the album and you can definitely hear that Bad Seeds influence in the way the songs move and stalk their prey. Portishead’s Adrian Utley also features, adding keys and ramping up the atmosphere on songs like the gorgeous ‘Eden’.

The songs, it’s important to note, are undeniably catchy too. Recent single ‘Don’t Beat the Girl Out of My Boy’, Calvi explains, is about, “being free to identify yourself in whichever way you please, without any restraints from society”. Reductive masculine and feminine stereotypes are challenged, reversed and joyfully rejected throughout the album.  It does all this while lodging itself firmly into your brain as an earworm.

“I dressed myself in leather with flowers in my hair” Calvi begins on the album’s title track before singing on the soaring, melancholic coda “nothing lasts”. The album finds beauty, passion, and sadness in its explorations of desire. Channelling a little bit of Jeff Buckley as they somersault through the grooves, Calvi’s vocals remain powerful, sensual and commanding throughout. ‘Swimming Pool’ is a sublime dreamscape of heavenly, quietly enraptured vocals and a gentle, flowing melody as Calvi sings about “waves of desire”. It’s overwhelming in the best possible way.

An album fuelled by defiance, pleasure, and self-exploration; Hunter is a complex but extremely enjoyable LP. The album started life when a long-term relationship came to an end and Calvi upped sticks and moved to France with her girlfriend. All this kick-started a period of inspiration that led to the album. Ultimately it’s an LP about Calvi finding, embracing and exploring her freedom. All this makes Hunter one of the most engaging and passionate albums I’ve heard this year.

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