Review | ANOHNI makes protest music sing on Hopelessness
Hopelessness is a Trojan horse title, as Anohni herself claims she wants this album to be. Far from hopeless, this record is as much about reclamation of the world as it is about what we are doing to it, the driving force behind it a scaldingly relevant rage. Previously known as Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, Anohni has not made a comeback album. This a completely new, powerful statement, delivered to us in gorgeous synths, in equally melancholic and mucky electronic beats.
Unafraid of the largeness of the subject matter, Anohni’s confidence in our need to be thrown into this swells from the opening track, ‘Drone Bomb Me’, in which she shocks us immediately, singing from the perspective of a child whose parents have been killed in a drone attack, the child longing for a similar death. The lush vocals and darkly grand electronics sweep the listener off their feet just long enough to cut them back down to the inescapable horror of the situation, which is a defining feature of the entire album. There is no impotence or redundancy in Anohni’s anger, she knows exactly who and where to point it at.
This is a very important factor in how the album works as a whole. Anohni’s anger is so pure, so directed at exact failings and atrocities, that the best songs crawl hotly inside the listener’s consciousness and heightens awareness to an almost painful level. ‘4 Degrees’ and ‘Watch Me’ execute this caustically well, the former cracking open with blackened beats and an anticipatory, doomy backdrop, and lyrics such as “I wanna see this world, I wanna see it boil” framed ironically in the refrain of “it’s only four degrees.”
‘Watch Me’ is equally as unsettling , the anger here slowly drip-fed through sonorous vocals addressed to the omnipotent “daddy”. Anohni urges “daddy” to watch her watching pornography, to protect her from child molesters, etc.
Anohni’s knowledge and refusal to accept the world as we have broken it is both terrifying and empowering. I say terrifying because she cares SO much, so vehemently and is unashamedly weeping for the planet and what lies ahead of us. This is protest music, this is punk inside out. There are no middle fingers up out of apathy or boredom, but out of truly caring, truly feeling for other living creatures. Not caring simply does not cut it any more, and that is the protest at the heart of it. The world we live in is genuinely shocking and horrifying enough that we do not need an unnameable void at which to direct energy, to do so is simple diversionary tactics from real life.
People are restless, uncomfortable and full of dread. Plaintive lyrics like “I don’t want your future” in ‘Why Did You Separate Me From the Earth’ convey this without preaching or condescension, and in a very non-abstract way. This carries the album through what are somewhat weaker songs that can veer into gratuitous rhetoric and become a conveyer belt of problems, such as ‘I Don’t Love You Anymore’ and ‘Obama’, that don’t riposte and blast as much as others. The overwhelming truth of Hopelessness can be just that, and present the listener with a pandora’s box of issues and no clues as to how they can be addressed, let alone fixed.
Despite this, it is so brutally of the moment that it cannot be ignored, and although it confronts the listener with seemingly insurmountable obstacles and gross acts of destruction, we are far from hopeless, and this is why Anohni has struck such an innately human chord with this record.
EIGHT / TEN
For further discussion on ANOHNI’s debut, listen to the latest episode of the NO ENCORE podcast.