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Anjimile’s ‘Maker Mixtape’ is Brief and Beautiful

4 Stars

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Anjimile, a locally treasured singer-songwriter, has been self-releasing beautifully composed folk music and DIY indie rock since 2012. This year they’ve been named one of NPR’s twenty Slingshot Artists to Watch in 2019. Their latest release, "Maker Mixtape," features poetic meditations on love, loss, and the process of art-making itself, clearly demonstrates why Anjimile so rightly deserves the national recognition they are finally receiving.

Like much of Anjimile’s best work, particularly their album “Colors” released this past summer, the mixtape is a diverse yet connected listen. The five track EP opens and closes with acoustic tracks that, while similar in style, vary in theme. The opener and standout track from the mixtape, “Maker (Acoustic)”, is a moving exhortation to care for one’s muse, or as Anjimile memorably terms it: “Mind your maker.” In lines reminiscent of Frank Ocean’s verses on the JAY-Z and Kanye West 2011 track “No Church in the Wild” — "What's a mob to a king? What's a king to a god? / What's a god to a non-believer who don't believe in anything?” — Anjimile sings over a stirringly strummed guitar line “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 / Mind your maker.” Where Ocean’s verses highlighted JAY-Z and West’s declaration of their cultural ascendency and musical sovereignty, Anjimile’s lyrics both emphasize their own artistic achievement and serve as an appeal to, as they put it in an interview with the online magazine Vanyaland, “Listen to yourself. Take care of yourself. Watch yourself. Build love for yourself to yourself through yourself. Otherwise you are in danger of losing yourself.”

Anjimile returns to these themes — the importance of self-care and figuring out how to be a self in the world — throughout the mixtape. In “Pisces,” they explore how others can light the way for us in finding a way to be ourselves, singing on the chorus, “Yeah, you made a way for me / Feeling through... I can do that too.” Anjimile similarly explores the power of relationships to help us find our place in the world in “How Come,” singing, “this is where I want to be / with your hand in my hand / I know exactly where I stand.” This theme — that we are not alone in these existential struggles — is further emphasized through Anjimile’s choice to include background vocals from other artists such as Justine Bowe, Heather Scott, and Grant Bloom. These beautiful harmonizations, express the affirming power of community.

This is not to say that relationships with others are portrayed solely as a source of support in Anjimile’s work. In “Sonja Smokes Me Out,” they sing about getting high with a roommate after a difficult argument with a friend. Anjimile described the inspiration for the song in an interview with WBUR, saying, “I got into an argument with a friend of mine about race and racial justice, and he said some really stupid s--- to me,” adding that the lyrics describe “the way that I feel when white people who have no understanding of social justice attempt to, like, argue with me about it, and create pity as if I'm supposed to feel bad for them.” Over bright, catchy indie rock backing Anjimile movingly captures the pain of feeling “erase[d]” and “dead” and the not uncomplicated relief of subsequently getting high. The emotional landscape of "Baby No More (Acoustic),” the mixtape’s closer, is also fraught. In the track, which by its sound ought to be a coffeehouse classic, Anjimile explores the breakdown of a relationship in which they’ve hurt their partner, asking self-critical rhetorical questions: “Am I not supposed to hurt you? / Am I not supposed to make you cry?” and then making the painful if necessary decision to end the relationship in a heartbroken cry: “I can't be your baby no more.” The song about sorrowful endings is a fitting conclusion to an all-too-brief release.

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—Staff writer A.J. Cohn can be reached at adam.cohn@thecrimson.com.

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