Album: The Anchoress – The Art Of Losing review

By Phil Scarisbrick

Composed under the weight of death and trauma, The Anchoress’ sophomore record looks for light within the darkness, and shares it with the world

Death and loss are fundamental parts of life. We try our best to avoid them, and to push them out of our consciousness so their spectre is hidden from our daily lives. Ultimately though, their unavoidable nature means that the only way to ease the enormous weight they possess is to talk about them, and try to come to peace with their inevitability. Since the release of her debut record – Confessions of A Romance Novelist – in 2016, Catherine Ann Davies (aka The Anchoress) has had her fair share of trauma. Her father suffered with a brain tumour that took his life, and Davies herself undertook treatment for cervical cancer. Compounded by baby loss and surgery, she was left with no option but to face death and grief head on. It is the exploration of these experiences that instructed her new record, The Art Of Losing.

It would be very easy to describe a record that covers such subjects as being ‘dark’, but that would do a massive disservice to what Davies has accomplished here. The album’s soundtrack is vibrant and full of colour, and its lyrics are balanced and hopeful. The James Dean Bradfield-featuring single, The Exchange, seeks to absolve us of blame for our fallibility. ‘You’re not to blame / Another part of the exchange / You’re just some pawn to interchange againthe pair exclaim over an explosive soundtrack that is bookended by a solitary piano backing. There is a definite Kosmische Musik feel to this track, as well as several others including, Show Your Face. Evoking St. Vincent’s MASSEDUCTION with its synth-pop intro, it bursts into a frenetic rock number, and Davies seems to be taking aim at a person’s lack of accountability – ‘You dish it out but now it’s plain to see that you can’t take / When you’re the one to blame but now I see that you’ve been fake– clearly aggrieved by someone in her life’s behaviour.

The album’s title track is another synth-coloured track that possesses incredibly powerful melodies. The lyrics really tackle the overarching themes of the whole record, with its chorus pondering, ‘So what did you learn when life was unkind? / And was there some purpose to losing my mind?’. Looking for positives amidst overbearing anguish, she ponders how useful these experiences can be. The adage of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ seems to be what Davies is questioning here, and going further by contemplating just how useful that strength is.

Unravel tries to distinguish self-worth from the value put on us by others. ‘If you don’t want me then I don’t want me, I waste too much of my time / Untie me and unbind me, And I’ll unravel from your,exclaims Davies, with an open-ended lyric leaving the listener second-guessing until the very last word of the song reveals its nature as she lightly utters ‘heart’. 

Bookended by two instrumental pieces – Moon Rise (Prelude) and Moon (An End) – the record sweeps over you like a cinematic experience. The former allows a deep breath before you dive into Davies’ world, while the latter allows a few minutes reflection of what we have just heard before you move on. Dealing with such profound experiences as Davies has had over the last few years, and being able to channel them into a record so positive and vibrant is no mean feat. Its nuanced and open words mean that you connect with her instantly, and the music adds a real drama when needed, while also being dynamically diverse enough to keep it interesting. The search for positives in the experiences she has had may have been fraught, but the artistic results are certainly a big one.

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