Catherine Anne Davies is The Anchoress. A Welsh multi-instrumental singer-songwriter with a huge wardrobe of skills she unleashes across her second album ‘The Art of Losing’. Carefully flipping from chamber pop ballads with full-on rock anthems and back again, The Anchoress shows that she is clearly winning at the art of music.
‘The Art of Losing’ is an album centred on grief, loss and the various ways you can slice it. Loss can be physical, mental, emotional, stolen and taken. The album chronicles everything and it isn’t afraid to do so with clarity. As a by-product of this, the music is as varied as it is expressive. Whilst piano pieces bookend the album, you’ll be on a royal rollercoaster throughout. ‘Let It Hurt’ firmly plays into the chamber pop sadness of letting the grief take over you but this numbing melody is but a chapter of a garbled book. ‘The Exchange’ brings in Manic Street Preechers James Dean Bradfield for a synth-laden Bowie-anthem. It is a wonderful interplay of how you can flip stances in your grief. When paired back to back with 80’s new romantic tinged ‘Show Your Face’, you see just the tiptoe of the range The Anchoress can bring. Three distinct flavours of rock, all tied together with a strong voice and some piano work.
My mention of Bowie earlier is quite intentional. Not only are some of the mixers The Anchoress worked with associated with some of Bowie’s work, but she also has an unusual breadth of musical genres like Bowie too. Title track ‘The Art of Losing’ is a fierce percussive rock track that rumbles and shakes you to the core as distorted synths, guitars and vocals smash around the drums like an emotional earthquake. Add in some symphonic string arrangements to an already dramatic mix and you have the stunning track ‘Unravel’. ‘Unravel’ has already become one of my favourite tracks of 2021 with ease. ‘All Farewells Should Be Sudden’ has a Bond quality to it as the smooth alt-pop slink of the melody broods like it is about to strike back. The Anchoress clearly has a fondness for warbling synths borrowed from the post-rock world and they often appear in usual ways, such as the cinematic ballad.
The album then shifts gears from the angry zone to the dissonant zone with the twisted murmurs of ‘Paris’ which circle a romantic and chilling piano and cello piece. It is an important step to take to understand the state of mind that the harrowing ‘5AM’ takes place in. The account of sexual assault and the loss of a baby is told like a nursery rhyme lullaby. You’d hear the melody and be utterly soothed by it but the lyrics tell of the ordeal in timed detail. For an album that touches on loss in many forms, its this track that chooses to stand the clearest and in full view. I was taken back to when I first heard Lisa Germano’s ‘Geek the Girl’ album and how that viscerally impacted me. This had a similarly deep blow.
Following on are two highly cinematic pieces. ‘The Heart is a Lonesome Hunter’ has a wild west vibe hiding behind it. I can imagine The Anchoress riding in on horseback demanding the saving of someone. ‘My Confessor’ is the big rock number that brings out all the guitars for epic choruses and comes across as an internal conversation with herself. The album then closes with ‘With The Boys’ which is a complex Wurlitzer and string-led piece tackling the male-led music industry. It reminds me of Tori Amos’ ‘Lady in Blue’ which tackles the same subject. Both make a huge impact in their own way.
It is an emotional 53 minutes of music and by the end, The Anchoress doesn’t give you any particular answers on loss. Instead, she collectively manages to loop the album full circle with those bookend piano-led pieces. The closing version ‘Moon (An End)’ has imprinted audio snippets and a distant guitar echo running through it. It is as the fabric of life moves on with all these pieces of you imprinted on it… but the fabric of life moves on regardless. The conclusion occurred to me in the final second. The Anchoress simply says ‘let it go’ and the album ends. All that noise, hiss and bubbling emotion distorts the listener and it is only when letting go that clarity can be found.
‘The Art of Losing’ is a phenomenal album. It tackles huge weighty subjects with passion, empathy, depth and consideration. An early contender for album of the year. A mammoth piece of work that covers more ground than many other artists to in an entire career. Catherine Anne Davies has well and truly cemented herself at the forefront of talented and inspiring musicians. Buy it.
Recommended track: Unravel
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