The Anchoress – ‘The Art of Losing’ review: visceral pain and comfort in sound

As she skewers the messy, chaotic nature of grief in various forms, alt-pop artist Catherine Anne Davis' second album finds her turning to art for clarity

The Anchoress’ – real name Catherine Anne Davies – second album borrows its title from ‘One Art’ by American writer Elizabeth Bishop, an ironic poem that entertains the idea that weathering grief gets easier with practice. “Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent,” Bishop writes, “the art of losing isn’t hard to master.”

Of course it’s not really true – bearing loss never gets easier. As with lugging along a huge backpack filled with heavy rubble, it never disappears – there is no magical, transformative moment where loss evaporates. Instead, you just grow slightly more accustomed to its weight bearing down on your shoulders over time.

Many tracks on ‘The Art of Losing’ explore this ever-present burden of grief, drawing on personal experiences, and laying them bare through dark alt-pop. In the years leading up to its creation, the artist lost her father to an aggressive brain tumour, underwent treatment for cervical cancer and navigated a number of miscarriages – in her writing, she endeavours to find meaning in the senseless cruelty of this pain, and also questions the idea that healing is a neat, linear journey. “So what did you learn when life was unkind,” she asks on the urgent title-track, underscored by a web of glimmering synths, “and was there some purpose to losing my mind?” 

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Lyrically, the Welsh musician is raw and unfiltered, refusing to dress her loss up in euphemistic metaphors. The swelling ‘5am’ is crushing, laying bare the freeze-frame moments of trauma that keep her awake at night. Throughout, red blood drips, first onto the carpet, later the concrete. Underpinned by grinding, angular ‘80s pop (and biting guitars courtesy of collaborator James Dean Bradfield of Manic Street Preachers, also a guest on ‘The Exchange’), ‘Show Your Face’ rallies against a person who protects abusers and won’t call out toxic masculinity. “You’ve got a nerve to show your face / In light of what you did,” she rages

Throughout, ‘The Art of Losing’ is peppered with carefully collaged references: musically, it recalls the likes of avant-garde songwriter Scott Walker, the neo-classical composer Max Richter, and David Bowie’s industrial Berlin period. It’s inspired as a whole by one of Dylan Thomas’ best known lines of poetry – “rage against the dying of the light” – and individual tracks hone in on other touchstones. ‘All Farewells Should Be Sudden’ opens with a tenet by the conceptual artist Jenny Holzer (“protect me from what I want”), while ‘The Heart is A Lonely Hunter’ plucks its title from another poem by Scottish poet William Sharp.

In all of this, there is no astounding moment of revelation or lesson learned – instead The Anchoress says something important about how we frequently turn to art as a kind of mirror in our most devastating moments. And as a record ‘The Art of Losing’ also holds up a reflection which is both painful and familiar – it captures the unpredictable, spinning chaos of grief with a searing precision that’s hard to turn away from.

Release date: February 12

Release label: Kscope

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