In the seven years since Anna Calvi’s self-titled debut, the artist has only released two more albums. It feels rare these days for musicians to take such time in-between albums—about three to four years between each for Calvi—but if it results in such finely tuned and original music as this, the wait becomes well worth it.
Hunter does not stray from the Calvi brand, and it doesn’t need to. Despite being produced over nearly a decade, each of Calvi’s albums sounds similar in their romantic and dramatic guitar work, blood-pulsing rhythms and the throaty, gymnastic vocals of Calvi, all steeped in a visual palette consisting of bright reds and rich blacks and grays. Sometimes the old adage of not fixing anything that isn’t broken is popular for a reason. Calvi’s work is totally hers, and even after all of these years, is still surprisingly unique in the pop landscape—so why would she need to change anything? I’m so glad she didn’t.
The album begins excellently, with “As a Man,” which hums along with a chugging rhythm that shoots directly into your bloodstream within seconds. The song also works as a great introduction to Calvi’s “thing” if this happens to be the first album of hers you’re hearing. The focus on her guitar skills, the nearly-primal instrumentation and rhythm, and Calvi’s journey to rock vocals and back to whispering spoken words are all major trademarks of the artist and she gives you it all in the first track. Outside of the music, the lyrics are thematically in keeping with the rest of her output. “As a Man” considers the inhibitive and prohibitive expectations of gender roles that preclude people, especially an otherwise hetero couple, of gaining a better intimacy with each other. Calvi sings that she can feel this person “closer, completely when you’re not walking and talking as a man,” trying to act a certain way “men” should act.
The interrogation of gender roles, labels, and expectations come up most prominently in two of the other stand-out tracks on the album. The first, also an early single, is “Don’t Beat the Girl Out of My Boy.” This subtly sexy and flirty pop song – complete with background “do do doos”—becomes a catchy, accessible appreciation of the feminine and masculine sides of a person and how one is better with both. The second song, “Chain,” comes later on the album and Calvi paints a picture of an exciting sexual encounter that has both participants trading gender roles (“I’ll be the boy you be the girl I’ll be the girl you’ll be the boy”). When the chorus explodes into a shimmery, vocalizing wonder you get the impression that this transcendence of gendered expectations is like a dream or a revelation.
The album, like most Anna Calvi music before it, is not focused on traditional lyric storytelling, but rather creating an atmosphere and a tone through the music and vocal performance. Calvi completely commits to every performance in every song, and that strength and commitment are what carries this album along like rising and crashing waves. The balance between more propulsive rock songs and quieter, smokier tracks is struck perfectly, so that the album never feels mired down or stuck. For instance, after the explosive introduction of “As a Man,” we get “Hunter,” which is relatively quiet, but has a progressive rhythm that keeps you tuned in. Towards the end of the album, after a few intense tracks—including the very swaggering “Wish,”—we get “Away,” which is a perfectly soft comedown track right before the sweet romanticism of the final track, “Eden.”
The overall experience becomes something refreshing and unabashedly adult. When announcing Hunter, Calvi posted a photo on Instagram with a lengthy caption stating her goals for the album, the last of which is “to be primal and beautiful, vulnerable and strong, to be the hunter and the hunted.” There are not many artists out there in any field who can set out and achieve what they want to achieve, especially when their goals are related to such heady, ineffable ideas. But Anna Calvi does it, and she does it with apparent ease. Hunter is a bold listen, with lots of texture and layers that I can’t wait to pull back and dig into. If this is the only Calvi album that we will have for the next three or four years, Calvi has given us a satisfying and sustaining 43 minutes to relish while we wait.