Secret Meeting score: 78
by Joseph Purcell
Anna Calvi achieved successive Mercury Music nominations for her eponymous 2011 debut and 2013’s sophomore release, One Breath. A musician of unique ability inspired by greats from across the arts, she has always brimmed with ideas. However, this critical acclaim has never quite translated into a commercial success afforded to many infinitely less talented British songwriters. On her swaggering new album, Calvi looks to redress the balance.
Hunter is a record inspired by personal turmoil and exploration of gender, tracking her search for identity following the break-up of an eight-year relationship and a move to Strasbourg.
Opener, As a Man, finds Calvi in PJ Harvey-evoking hushed tones, as guitars shuffle into a searing soundscape, before title track, Hunter, offers a glorious snapshot of her incredible arsenal of vocal talents.
Lead single, Don’t Beat the Girl out of My Boy, is jammed with a hypnotic sidewinding guitar on a track laden with explosive crescendos. Alpha, which features more hushed delivery and stalking guitar lines, feels like a creation born in the shadows- with eerie film noir qualities and Calvi’s words, ‘I’m an Alpha, I’m an Alpha, I divide and conquer’, it again roars into a wave of feedback, distortion and wrath.
The album’s title was inspired by her grievance of the perception of women being hunted by men, and served to begin her writing stance as an ‘Alpha Female’. Determined to explore and partake in pleasure, free of shame, gender stereotypes or the constraints of others, Calvi contemplated gender labels and whether she was even happy to identify as a woman, acknowledging the limitation’s that follow the label. Inspired by broader discussions on the topic and the surge of female empowerment, she explained “As well as my very own intimate journey exploring my sense of gender, I was inspired by this electric moment of artists and the wider community talking about gender and sexuality. I wanted to write an album where the woman is seen as the hunter, rather than her usual stereotypical role in our culture as the hunted.”
Calvi enlisted producer, Nick Launay, and together they orchestrated a cast of incredible musicians. The effortlessly creeping, exquisitely-timed percussion throughout and the raw pounding energy perfectly complements her enchanting penchant for exquisite lyricism. Portishead main man, Adrian Utley, and The Bad Seeds’ Martyn P Casey have given Calvi the freedom to elevate into new spheres over their exquisite soundscapes.
Hunter builds to its zenith with contrasting tracks. Away, a gently strummed acoustic number that floats and allows the vocal to take centre stage, takes a step away from the heavy percussive nature of much of Hunter as Calvi soars and emboldens in flawless fashion. In contrast, the disco funk bass and trembling symbols of Wish can’t help but delight. Fused with sultry yelps of gasping erotica – ‘I got one more wish before I die’ – it settles into a dance floor stomper, oozing with convulsions, angular shapes and hip breaking rhythm. The track transcends into a hymn-like séance of glory before returning to the mantra like repetition – ‘I got one more wish before I die’.
On Hunter, Anna Calvi has fulfilled what she previously promised. Her ideas are now carefully crafted with a clear focus; her songs swagger with more purpose than her earlier work. Previous albums had often suffered from a lack of consistency, and at time became overbearing to consume in one sitting. Hunter is different, and all the more glorious because of it. Hopefully Calvi will now receive the recognition she deserves as one of this country’s most eminent solo artists.