Chronicling grief and loss, and written while recuperating from drug and alcohol abuse, the debut album from Boston’s Anjimile Chitambo is an intense affair dressed up in sumptuous ornamentation. Across nine songs, they come to terms with what they’ve lost while simultaneously taking stock of what they have left and who they are, doing so with unflinching honesty and deeply personal lyrical narratives. In spite of its introspective nature, Giver Taker soars, building on the foundations laid on 2018’s debut Colors EP. Chitambo has never been afraid to make music that draws on such contrasts; and debut album Giver Taker is an opening statement which resonates long after its close.
“Your Tree” sets the tone for the record with its stark opening line, “It was early in winter when your sunflowers died.” The track builds to its peak with the aid of call-and-response verses and fluttering woodwind, driven by Chitambo’s guitar and arresting voice, which swoops over everything with the powerful delivery typical of a former choir boy.
Their experiences as a nonbinary trans person are central to the record’s narrative, as Chitambo clashes with their parents’ religious upbringing on “Maker”, its chorus as jubilant as its verses are reflective, as they vow to make themselves in their own image. “I’m not just a boy, I’m a man / I’m not just a man, I’m a god / I’m not just a god, I’m a maker,” they proclaim with refreshing confidence, a moment of clarity that is defiant and revealing.
It’s set against one of the album’s most vulnerable moments in “Ndimakukonda”, an unabashed love song that’s relatively unfurnished in comparison to the rest of the album. Here, Chitambo aims to triumph over indifference (“Your parents think I’m crazy / I can’t say they’re wrong”) and whatever else life may throw at them (“Our future is uncertain / That will always be”). The short and sweet song is one of the record’s clearest displays of Chitambo’s resilient nature.
Threaded throughout the brief, 27-minute album is an unwavering sense of self-belief. Even when humbled by grief, as they are on the intensely moving title track, they’re able to draw strength from that resilience, sending off a departed friend with a stirring eulogy (“As you rest, may you find / Peace of heart, peace of mind”). These songs are keenly aware of setbacks and changing circumstances; their creator’s life seems to be in a state of constant flux, but they retain the capacity for joy and wonder throughout everything.
It’s been quite a journey for them to even arrive at this point – “weary, yet somehow still alive,” to quote “Baby No More”, a song that showcases inner strength even while in mourning for lost selves. This set of songs, intimate and filled with lyrical and musical nuances that encourage repeated listening, is supremely rewarding. That resilient streak is sure to take Anjimile places.