“If Giver Taker was an album of prayers, The King is an album of curses.” Anjimile won the world over with the clear-eyed honesty of their first record – a meditation on spirituality and liberation. In 2019 he recorded Giver Taker, a collection of songs written while getting sober in Florida. Giver Taker was critically adored – Rolling Stone Magazine deemed it one of the best 50 albums of 2020. Since Giver Taker’s release, Anjimile tested new material on the road while opening for artists like Jose Gonzalez, Tune-Yards, and Hurray for the Riff Raff. In his sophomore album, The King, he continues exploring what it means to be a Black trans person in America. The brutally honest reflection of 2020’s deadly summer is less reminiscent of the pink cloud of early sobriety and more rooted in the reality of seeing brutality with clear eyes.
The King was written in the wake of the Black Death – the Covid-19 epidemic and the rising, ceaseless wave of police brutality against Black folks. In the title track, Anjimile croons over controlled chaos, “The plague of our year//the Black Death is here// your silence a stain//the marking of Cain,” on its face, this Bible-laced verse may ring as allegory, but to Black ears, we know the silence, and we know the mark of Cain – the Biblical justification for enslaving Africans. Anjimile, the perpetual choir boy, begins the album with eight haunting voices, the story of King Belshazzar, Daniel, and the writing on the wall. The voices are quickly overcome with rapid-fire Philip Glass-esque arpeggios from what sounds like the Devil’s harpsichord but, in actuality, is an acoustic guitar jerry-rigged with a Hammer Jammer.
“The King” is deeply steeped in the confusion, grief, and rage of being Black in America. Anjimile pushes back against the tired adage, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” hissing, “What don’t kill you almost killed you// What don’t fill you//pains you// drains you.” Anjimile says, “At the end of the day, I might feel hopeless, but I don’t feel alone. I don’t feel alone in my Black rage, my suffering, my depression. There’s something sacred about being a part of this tradition of Black artists channeling this.” The King is an invitation into this tradition.
The songs “Genesis,” “The Right,” and “Animal” were written in the three days after George Floyd’s viral lynching in 2020. The triptych covers the emotional cycle of being Black in America in moments like this – “Genesis,” the grief, “The Right,” the fear, and “Animal,” the anger. Anjimile’s work enters the long canon of Black protest music – lyrics begging for the right to simply live to more explicitly political lyrics in “Animal” evoking the righteous anger summoned by Nina Simone – “Every day another grief to hold//And I heard blue lives matter//from a white liberal//piece of shit I couldn’t stand at all//if you treat me like an animal//I’ll be an animal.”
“Animal” is a departure from Anjimile’s typically angelic and agile finger-picking to chunky staggered marching chords that match the energy of this protest song’s lyrics. The track begins with static as he finds the radio station for his rage that shimmers beneath the whole song, surfacing with Anjimile’s swelling voice at the end of every chorus and verse and lingering long after they finish.
The King showcases the perfect marriage between Anjimile’s lyricism and musicality and the power of brilliant production. Anjimiile spent a year in LA working intimately with Grammy and Juno winner Shawn Everett. Before entering the booth, Everett took Anjimile to different museums and had them choose a painting for each track on the album to get a feel for Anjimile’s artistry and process. Everett’s intentionality is evident in every measure – with brilliant ideas like using a sole instrument for the entire album for sonic unity, to recording some tracks in every key before choosing a final version, and, finally, creating eerie effects by covering a microphone with a condom before submerging it in water and pointing a speaker at it. Everett’s past collaborator, James Krivchenia of the band Big Thief, hopped on the track “Black Hole,” using his hands to drum back of an acoustic guitar instead of his usual skins, adding an extra layer of haunting to the ethereal track.
Anjimile has been hustling for over a decade in the indie music scene, first hitting the stage in Boston while he attended Northeastern University as a music industry student. Anjimile recorded several EPs and albums on their own, and their star rose when their 2018 NPR Tiny Desk Concert contest entry was deemed the best out of Boston. The King is the result of decades of hustling, centuries of survival, and one artist’s honesty and bravery.