The singer-songwriter revisits highlights from her magnetic 2018 LP with the help of guests like Charlotte Gainsbourg, Courtney Barnett, and Julia Holter.
In his paintings Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool and Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), the British artist David Hockney used the pretext of private pools as scenes for voyeurism. At a time when homosexuality was still criminalized in his native UK, the artist’s adopted home of Los Angeles provided a sanctuary where he could express his desires, which were fueled by post-war "beefcake" magazines and Hollywood films.
Anna Calvi has said Hockney’s obsession with the pools he first noticed from his airplane window was a direct inspiration for the rippling guitars in “Swimming Pool,” a song from her 2018 record Hunter. On that album, she explored gender and sexuality and dove into her relationship to androgyny. Her swimming pool wasn’t vivid and clear like Hockney’s, but a shadowy and eerie space where desire could be contained.
18 months after its release, Calvi dug out her earliest recordings for Hunter, and saw that, in their rawest state, the tracks were a time capsule, vulnerable dispatches often whispered gingerly over her Telecaster. Resisting the impulse to remix or revisit the tracks herself, she sent four of them to artists she admires—Julia Holter, Courtney Barnett, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Joe Talbot—and has released their contributions, along with three tracks in their demo form, as the EP Hunted.
Calvi’s preoccupation with gender roles and fluidity imprints itself on her collaborators here, as Barnett’s trademark laconic drawl joins her on “Don’t Beat the Girl Out of My Boy.” The addition of Talbot on “Wish” transforms the song from a pulsing encouragement to indulge in fatalist desires into a tense and sorrowful elegy. The IDLES frontman uses his grief and loss to transform the band’s live shows into punk rallies campaigning for joy and hope, but he’s more melancholy here. His and Calvi’s dueling voices evoke a primal need, born from the fear of knowing time is running out.
At no point on the EP is Calvi’s role in the proceedings made truly explicit: she is both the hunter and the prey, the quivering and the stalking. On the album cover, she appears drenched in sweat, her every pore and blood vessel visible. Tendrils of her dark hair are matted to her face in the aftermath of the ecstatic pose she assumed on Hunter‘s artwork. This is what comes after, she suggests: the steam from her exhaling nose distorts the mirror’s reflection of her smudged lipstick and running eyeliner. The makeup is a marker of traditional femininity, but there’s something carnal and animalistic to her pose, a rejection of the ladylike and precious.
Across Hunted’s seven tracks, Calvi contorts her dance along the spectrum of gender and sexuality into something more of a march, stomping between tenderness and brutality. On “Eden”, Gainsbourg echoes Calvi’s story of a formative queer romance, while Holter’s otherworldly vocals rise up from the depths on “Swimming Pool.” Calvi’s intention to share the frame with other artists on Hunted feels like a way to relinquish control while maintaining power, allowing her work to be a mirror more than one person can stand before. But even when she’s hidden from view, there’s no one else who could possibly be in charge.
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