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Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Reunion, the new EP from Anjimile.
Anjimile’s official debut, Giver Taker, was a rebirth and exploration: most of it was written while finding language for their identity as a transmasculine nonbinary person and moving toward sobriety and addiction recovery. Reunion is the next step in this process of reinvention and growth, reimagining three tracks from his debut LP, “In Your Eyes,” “Maker” and “1978.”
Where Giver Taker is introspective and intimate, Reunion is bold and expansive. All three songs are built out with string compositions — from musician and composer Daniel Hart — that allow a dynamic and cinematic experience, amplifying the messages at the heart of their original recordings. Paired with these sweeping instrumentals, fellow indie artists Jay Som, SASAMI and Lomelda provide vocals that further reinterpret each song. It is a testament to Anjimile’s songwriting power that even in these different arrangements, these tracks are still distinctly his own — a true reunion of concept and execution.
When Anjimile spoke to American Songwriter about each track on Giver Taker, they provided a personal origin for the sparse lyrics of “In Your Eyes”:
“I asked my parents what ‘Anjimile’ meant. They told me that ‘Anjimile’ means ‘denied’ in Chichewa (the native language of Malawi, where my family is from), and that one of my aunts had cried out ‘Oh, Anjimile’ when I was born because she was hoping my parents would have a son. In this context, ‘Anjimile’ means ‘denied a boy.’ There’s a couple of lyrics in this song that go ‘Does my body divide / was my body denied?’ and they’re quite literal and based around the aforementioned context. The whole song is related to my relationship with my gender, my sexuality, my name, my family.”
“In Your Eyes” is the first track on Reunion, renamed with the parenthetical “Reflection.” Explicitly about perception of identity, from the title onward, in Jay Som’s hands there is a defiance and decisiveness that wasn’t as present in the original. Although she doesn’t deviate much from the melody, Jay Som’s voice brings an increased sense of urgency, and there’s a driving rhythm underneath it all from percussive pizzicato replacing what was previously soft drums. Sweeping violins duel for the top harmonies, and toward the end of the song, syncopated cello rhythms add an additional undercurrent of tension. It seems to be a reflection in a relatively literal sense: on reflection, the original perhaps didn’t allow Anjimile to advocate for themself quite as strongly. The Reunion version has the tone of remembering an argument after the fact and then realizing how you should have defended yourself. “In Your Eyes (Reflection)” is the chance to have that argument again.
The second track on Reunion, “Maker (Refraction),” is an exception from Giver Taker that was written before what Anjimile terms their “rock bottom” and subsequent recovery. He spoke with VMP last year about how he now sees the song as prophecy, with its lyrics asserting “I’m not a boy, I’m a man,” prior to his identification as transmasculine. SASAMI’s version feels more triumphant — almost dancy — with more playful string arrangements incorporating elements of fiddling and more dissonant sounding glissandi. It seems to take “refraction” in the sense of a focusing of the gaze: Refocused, “Maker” is a song of celebration.
“1978” is an ode to Anjimile’s grandmother, although they never met. Anjimile spoke with them. magazine recently about music being the “most recognizable and translatable connection” to his ancestors. He elaborated: “Music is a part of my history and lineage … When I sing or make music I just feel like I’m in conversation with something that has existed so much longer than I have.”
The Reunion version is told plainly in Lomelda’s clear and distinctive voice. This is the tearjerker of the album, with swelling strings that raise goosebumps — and with “Reunion” in the song title, it seems to represent the core of this EP. When everything drops away except a solo pizzicato line toward the end of the song, it’s a heart-stopping change in atmosphere before more plucked instruments join in.
We are left in anticipation for when Anjimile themself will return to songwriting and performance; there’s certainly more of their journey to come, foreshadowed by this three-track victory lap.
Theda Berry is a Brooklyn-based writer and the former Editor of VMP. If she had to be a different kind of berry, she’d pick strawberry.