Anna Calvi recently told the Evening Standard that she feels she’s always made queer music, and therefore doesn’t consider her third album, Hunter, a coming-out moment, but the British singer-songwriter has never expressed her gender fluidity as directly as she does here. She ponders whether more fully embracing her masculinity would allow her to understand her lover on the jaunty “As a Man,” while on “Don’t Beat the Girl Out of My Boy,” she decries the gender binary, demanding that modern culture move beyond placing people’s identities into rigidly predetermined, all-or-nothing categories.
Hunter is steeped in sex, as its songs explore desire in both its primal and transcendent extremes; not for nothing does Calvi appear drenched in sweat on the album’s cover. The singer evokes the duality between the profane and the sacred on “Indies or Paradise,” where she alternates between breathy whispers about crawling on her hands and knees like an animal to “taste the dirt of us” before reaching operatic heights as she yearns to ascend “to the air in paradise” with her lover. Calvi dips into pricklier themes of a dominant female lover taking her “to the back seat” and restraining her on the aptly titled “Chain”; by repeating various permutations of “You be the boy, I’ll be the girl,” she highlights outmoded dom/sub gender roles while also celebrating the thrill of breaking away from entrenched social mores.
The album also subverts cultural depictions of women as prey. Calvi sings of sex as conquest on “Alpha,” claiming she’ll “divide and conquer” as she aggressively pursues both satisfaction and the knowledge that she can fully satisfy others. The title track uses vocal loops of Calvi inhaling and exhaling—such breathiness is wielded in various forms throughout Hunter—and touches upon sex as a mechanism to create a sense of present-moment awareness amid the ephemerality of life in which, as Calvi reminds us, “nothing lasts.”
Musically, Hunter is at its best when it juxtaposes gentle, intimate moments with explosive crescendos. Calvi displays her virtuosic guitar playing throughout the album, most notably on “Indies or Paradise,” where she launches into a frenzied, distortion-laden solo that diverges from the track’s otherwise steady, chugging rhythm. The songs that maintain a more consistent tempo and volume tend to lean heavily on cinematic atmospherics, as on the shimmering “Swimming Pool,” which hews too closely to the dramatic, ornate flourishes of a James Bond title song. Calvi also relies too often on shadow imagery, belaboring the motif of shedding light on what was once kept hidden. But by revealing the full spectrum of her sexual expression and identity, she makes a bold and defiant statement on postgenderism through uncompromising music that’s alternately elegant and raw.