The Lowdown: Anjimile Chithambo might be new to the spotlight, but he’s been paying attention for a long time. His debut album, Giver Taker, carries a wide variety of influences — among them church choirs, ’80s pop, African music, and indie-folk — and melds them together as if they were born for this, born to flow into one another. The Boston-based trans musician wrote much of Giver Taker while in treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, and many of the songs are also concerned with his experiences coming out as trans and non-binary. As such, the entire album is papered with transformation, but through lenses of tenderness: the love implicit in confessions and the awe of one’s own resilience in the face of socialization and struggle.
The Good: Would that I could just plop every single lyric from this album on here and let that be the review. Alas, I can’t — but they really are that beautiful, from end to end. Calming and profound, the lyricism throughout Giver Taker speaks to the divinity of connection, the search for self-comprehension, and the discovery of holiness therein. Anjimile’s keen instinct for poetry arises in the heartrending lullaby “Not Another Word”, in verses like, “I came howling after God/ Won’t you set things right/ Mend my mind, untie my knot/ Calm me through the night,” and, “To the sky I raise my head/ Won’t you set me straight/ Will I live to shake the dead/ Will I crumble from the weight.” “Giver Taker” offers another shrewd poetic moment with, “As you rest/ May you find/ Peace of heart/ Peace of mind/ Mine is yours/ Yours is mine/ Or divine/ Or design.”
This observation of holy experience breathes well in the lyrics, but it isn’t confined to them. The entire album benefits from church-like atmospherics that speak to Anjimile’s past as a choir singer as well as his love for acoustic, soft-spoken folk. From the winds and strings intertwined in its opening notes all the way through to the end, the makeup of Giver Taker is one of careful brushstrokes of indie guitars and blooming backgrounds, sweeping from song to song and anchored by deliberate points of clarity throughout. “Baby No More” brings a welcome old-timey feeling in its lounging jauntiness, its refrain of “Am I/ Not supposed to hurt you?/ Am I/ Not supposed to make you cry?” subtly recalling Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”. In keeping with the themes of fluidity, change, and self-definition being sacred concepts, all of the songs feel guided by their own innate rhythms — like the soft percussion on “1978” or the subdued but striking conga pattern that takes over from the consistent guitar plucks in “To Meet You There”.
The Bad: Comparisons to Sufjan Stevens are already aplenty and earned — the style in Giver Taker’s arrangements, with melodic vocals punctuating a percussive, folksy undertone, will feel quickly familiar to Sufjan fans. This doesn’t feel like a strictly negative thing because Anjimile does achieve the effect so well and so organically — it’s more that Anjimile’s own unique voice in some places risks being surfaced by the recognizability of his influences. He is already an artist well posed to be, himself, an inspiration and an influence to many others, by virtue of both his musical styles and his compassionate candor — Giver Taker offers a stunning glimpse at what this influence will look like, but hasn’t quite reached the finish line of having its own singular sound. Then again, with the album itself being so crucially about growth and the feeling of standing at a juncture, maybe the snapshot of a journey not quite finished is the whole point.
The Verdict: A debut album can often feel like an announcement or an artist statement: something that says, This is me, and this is my music. Anjimile unites that self-consciousness with an exploratory intention — one that asserts that to be lost isn’t the same thing as to be aimless, and to be questioning of something isn’t to not also be sure and steady. He is already in a place of growth from one self into the next, and he’s not afraid for us to meet him there.
Essential Tracks: “1978”, “Not Another Word”, and “To Meet You There”
Pick up a copy of Anjimile’s Giver Taker here.