The Welsh Renaissance woman harnesses grief, fury, and love of storytelling on a compelling sequel...

Few modern artists are as outspoken and erudite as Catherine Anne Davis. Over the past five years she has become a familiar presence in the British alternative scene, popping up in unexpected places to host radio shows, release podcasts, pen thoughtful articles about the mental health and sexism issues endemic to the music industry, and collaborate with well-established acts like Bernard Butler, Manic Street Preachers and Simple Minds. She’s a member of the Music Producers Guild, teaches songwriting and music production at ICMP, and also, on occasion, releases music under her ‘The Anchoress’ guise. In other words, she keeps herself busy.

All this extraneous preamble merely serves to demonstrate how strange it is that it is only now, in 2021, that we are finally getting a proper follow-up to 2016’s much lauded ‘Confessions Of A Romance Novelist’, an album that, for reasons far outside Davies’ control, feels like it was released thousands of years ago. True, ‘The Art of Losing’ was originally meant to arrive last March, becoming one of the earliest release calendar casualties of a crisis that no-one foresaw continuing this long; but listening to this record it’s impossible not to feel that Davies has done a lot of living in the intervening years following her debut’s release.

While ‘Confessions Of A Romance Novelist’ was by no means a shallow record, its odes to heartbreak and hardship were delivered with a theatrical, almost camp flair that complimented her novelistic way with words and love of drama. While ‘The Art of Losing’ hasn’t seen The Anchoress lose her taste for those big, Kate Bush flourishes to up the emotional stakes of her songs, there is a comparative sense of weight and seriousness given to the subject matter addressed here.

As its title suggests, this is a concept album about the sensation of loss - of reaching for something only to find it suddenly and irrevocably gone. For the first 20 minutes or so Davies largely embeds these feelings in radio-friendly, vaguely gothic bangers. ‘Show Your Face’ details the death of a friendship with someone who refuses to believe sexual assault victims, ‘The Exchange’ chronicles a loss of identity in a toxic relationship, while the title track confronts the societal taboo surrounding the discussion of miscarriages, a heavy and very personal subject to Davis that she nevertheless prevents from becoming too cutting by employing a bouncy melody and the hook from Depeche Mode’s ‘Shake The Disease’.

From ‘Paris’ onwards, however, the gloves are taken off. The production is stripped back to just piano and strings (which comes as a relief, as her Achilles’ heel when producing herself is a propensity for squeezing every cool instrument in her studio onto each track), and Davies allows her powerful voice to take centre stage. ‘5am’ is a true showstopper of a song that calmly revisits three of her most horrific memories, each of which Davies depicts with barbed-wire honesty: the hollow end of a love affair, the traumatic and non-consensual loss of her virginity, the truly distressing hospital trip that ends in a miscarriage.

This combination of poignancy and dull rage persists until the end of the record on an incredible run of tracks that ends with ‘With The Boys’, a savage indictment of her experience as a capable woman working in the patronising, testosterone-drenched world of music production (“Got to be good, got to be certain if she wants to play with the boys,” sneers the chorus).

Like it’s predecessor, ‘Art Of Losing’ is lent an air of grandiosity by the plethora of authors Dr Catherine Anne Davies (PhD Literature and Queer Theory) references throughout: Carson McCullers, Lord Byron, Julian of Norwich, etc. This time around, however, there is never any doubt in her authorial voice and ability to commandingly tell her own story, with all the tragedies and triumphs contained therein.

8/10

Words: Josh Gray

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