The Anchoress (aka Catherine Anne Davies) follows up her critically acclaimed debut album with ‘The Art of Losing’ – a self-produced LP that finds her trying to make sense of grief and exploring how we all try to make something from the losses that affect our lives. The record’s title is inspired by the opening line of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, ‘One Art’ and while the songs were written following a number of traumatic events, they’re bursting with life as Catherine looks to find purpose.
The ambient Mercury Rev-style piano and strings of ‘Moon Rise (Preludes)’ opens the album in grandiose fashion before the drums come crashing in on the chamber pop of ‘Let It Hurt’ – a song with a powerfully honest emotional core: ‘Ouch, this is going to take some time… Let it hurt some’. ‘The Exchange’ follows, complete with a guest appearance by the Manic Street Preachers’ frontman James Dean Bradfield. This melodic slice of art pop has experimental tones as Catherine reassures the subject they are not in the wrong: ‘You’re not to blame, all part of the exchange’. The next few songs also see Catherine dip into new genres while delivering important messages about social issues – from the synth pop of ‘Show Your Face’ (where she declares ‘You can say what you think but I don’t wanna see your face’ to the prog-infused stylings of the title track.
‘All Farewells Should Be Sudden’ is more genteel and piano-led to reflect the contemplative observations (‘When it’s over’; ‘Now I’m older’) before the short and sweet Max Richter-inspired ‘All Shall Be Well’ signals the midway point of the albun. ‘Unravel’ has the feeling of Kate Bush writing the soundtrack to a John Hughes film – but with an extra layer of intensity (‘If you don’t want me, well, I don’t want me, I take too much of my time’), while ‘Paris is short piece of storytelling that finds Catherine openly talking about her fears of days being consumed and finding happiness. The poignant ‘5am’ is the emotional core of the album and must have been so tough to write – detailing both a horrific sexual assault and the loss of a baby in unflinching manner. Set against a St. Vincent ‘New York’-style soundtrack, Catherine emotionally recalls how ‘Red, red blood is dripping and I can’t sleep’ before warning ‘If you see him, tell him why I didn’t stop to say hi’.
‘The Heart is a Lonesome Hunter’ is equally dramatic before the ferocious drumming and post-rock guitars of ‘My Confessor’ take the album in another unexpected – and captivating – direction. The wurlitzer-led ‘With the Boys’ contains an important message about the level of misogyny in the music industry and has Catherine reflecting on how she lost a friendship over the Me Too movement. She rallies against being told to stay quiet by men in suits: ‘I can’t and I won’t shut my mouth this time’. The record draws neatly to a close with ‘Moon (An End)’ – a subtle piece that picks up where the opener and interlude left off.
‘The Art of Losing’ is a cathartic and soul-stirring album from a winning artist.