Finding a way into Anohni's densely packed debut album isn’t hard. The songstress wields her voice like a weapon, dropping it to a monotone on ‘Obama’ or then using it to float above the music in the quietly devastating ‘Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth'. The latter sees swirling synths and digital abstraction take a backseat to Anohni’s beguiling high register.
Anohni, formerly Antony Hegarty, is a transgender performer who made her name as the singer that fronted Antony and the Johnsons — a musical collective that rotated through various collaborators — with whom she released four albums of baroque pop music.
This year she’s back with a new solo album, featuring production from Hudson Mohawke (Red Bull brought him to do a series of shows in India in 2014), and Oneohtrix Point Never. Each of the album's 11 songs is a visceral, angry anthem, taking a stand for the oppressed, over electronic beats that wouldn’t be out of place in a nightclub. Protesting everything from climate change (the foot stomping ‘4 Degrees’) to drone bombings (on album opener ‘Drone Bomb Me’), Anohni’s socially conscious music tackles subjects that put the spotlight on aspects of our world that are in dire need of change.
Her album, named ‘Hopelessness’, doesn't seem pessimistic so much as a statement of fact. The songs tackle a range of themes from the global (climate change, the surveillance state), to the more spiritual (the idea of oneness with earth). American policy and apathy are called out in songs like ‘Execution’ and ‘Obama’ the latter of which turns the 44th President’s name into something sinister and foreboding. With multiple themes coming under her scanner, this protest album comes at a time when the world, while ever more connected, seems to be retreating into silos of thought and interaction.
With a resonance, and worldliness that is rare in mainstream pop music today, Anohni spotlights today’s issues from a distinctly feminine point of view. By taking on such a wide array of subjects, and offering nothing in terms of solutions - Anohni uses her music to stimulate. For those singing along — the impact that each song has is magnified, as it forces its audience to confront the world we live in.
To start an album with a song about a young girl in Afghanistan, asking to be drone bombed — is not something that most would attempt, or let alone succeed at. But in Anohni’s supple voice, the song, ebbs and flows — against an ominous drum beat and gorgeous synths — to build a symbiotic relationship (“Blow me from the mountains/and into the sea”) between the young girl and the mechanical drone (“I want to be the apple of your eye”). Similar screeds take climate change to its logical end (on ‘4 Degrees’ she sings about watching animals die as the worlds temperature’s rise by 4 degrees).
Using both lush orchestration and digital production, she is able to channel her anger, to illuminate the shortcomings of the world in 2016. On '4 Degrees' she sings, ‘I wanna hear the dogs crying for water/I wanna see the fish go belly-up in the sea/And all those lemurs and all those tiny creatures/I wanna see them burn, it's only 4 degrees'.
It often feels like the album, and Anohni, is steeped in a kind of empathy that most people can’t find — as they’re chasing success, and the trappings of a life that late-capitalism has conditioned us to seek out. This album, and its songs momentarily expands the purview of its listener, and forces consideration of things like the men still trapped in Guantanamo Bay (on ‘Crisis’) or America’s relationship to the death penalty (on ‘Execution’). By singing about subjects that seem to be forgotten in music, Anohni powerfully makes the case that art can still be used to illuminate, protest and educate — the same way that counter culture music in the 60s called for peace. That she is able to do so over bass like heartbeats, twinkling synths and electronic production that rivals those found in the underground club scene — shows that while the issues and music have been updated, the cause, of an angry protest album is as relevant today as it was in years gone by.
Ultimately, the songs on Hopelessness are anything but hopeless. They’re angry, they’re considered, and they’re haunting and sometimes gorgeous. After a six-year hiatus, Anohni uses her voice and her music to create something unique.