Since releasing her 2011 self-titled debut album, Anna Calvi, as an artist, has resided within liminal spaces. Liminal spaces are transitional in nature, where the veil is very thin between worlds seen and unseen. Through her atmospheric music and evocative lyrics, Calvi has become our guide into these unknown and mysterious places.
Nowhere was that more evident than on 2018’s Hunter. An exploration of self, of gender and of queer sensibilities, Hunter felt both powerful and achingly vulnerable. While that album can easily stand on its own, Calvi found new layers to delve into as she looked back on the initial versions of seven tracks created for Hunter. Now, she reveals the belly of the beast on her latest release, companion album Hunted.
“Swimming Pool” opens up Hunted and while the original used echoing guitar and shimmering cymbals to carry us along, this version relies more on the vocals. Calvi is joined by Julia Holter and their ambient pop harmonies gently roll over the senses until you are almost drowning in their otherworldly chorale. “Down we will dive/ Down to the night of the earth/ Come down to the swimming pool,” she sings as a siren call and an intimate invitation to another realm where shadows and light intersect seamlessly.
Calvi brings in the talents of other artists on Hunted as well, confidently merging their sounds with her own. Charlotte Gainsbourg slips into “Eden” softly, a whispering ghost to Calvi’s strong yet stripped-back delivery. Their voices overlap as they sing “eden night.” Gainsbourg’s vocals are hushed and Calvi’s ring out as a guitar gently reverberates behind them.
Some of the boldness found on Hunter is more delicate and raw on Hunted, but it’s no less daring upon revision. It’s there on tracks like “Don’t Beat the Girl out of My Boy,” where Courtney Barnett brings her deadpan intonation to the song. Their back and forth conversation sounds like a late night session where two minds become one. “There’s no words, just you and I/ So wild,” she sings. It strikes a chord that only kindred spirits can feel and it’s clear that that connection is there for Calvi and Barnett.
Many moments on Hunted are made up of simmering emotions beautifully held in check. But the fire gets to flare up and burn especially hot on the closing track, “Indies or Paradise.” The original take of this song had a sonic coolness to it, but the Hunted version peels back the sheen and leaves us exposed. Calvi’s deft and dirty touch on the guitar blends with her voice, two instruments wailing outward to God: “Crawl down, down on my knees, crawling through the trees like an animal/ I taste, taste, taste of the dirt, taste the dirt of us/ God I feel the rain rain rain on my back, crawling through the trees like an animal I go,” she sings.
Hunted is a feral and fascinating journey, where private explorations are laid bare for us to hear and to experience. And once more, Calvi is there, pulling listeners somewhere between desire and defiance, and holding a nebulous space for those brave enough to follow her.
Follow reporter Mary Hughes at Twitter.com/spheeris1.