NOHNI’s HOPELESSNESS is blistering and elemental. In eleven tracks Anohni, formerly Antony Hegarty (of Antony & the Johnsons), wrestles with some of the most pressing issues facing the planet today. The album takes on drone warfare, ecocide and surveillance. This is Anohni at her most angry; HOPELESSNESS heaves in the same way I Am A Bird and Cut the World do, testament to Anohni’s stunningly affective vocals, but with a bite.
The choice to enlist Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never for production seems tactical. Both pretty hot right now in electronica, their beats serve as bid to extend Anohni’s scope beyond the esoteric and into the mainstream. HOPELESSNESS is conscious pop. Behind it there is the kind of pressing energy disco had, an obvious, or direct, yoking of polemics with dance music. Speaking of a kind of indebtedness to what disco was doing, Anohni told Pitchfork her enlisting of Hud Mo and Oneohtrix served to invigorate; “there was something in the rest of my catalogue that almost seemed too passive and morose, especially in a conversation about global realities today.”
HOPELESSNESS is conscious pop
There are moments where the lyrics smack as too obvious- but then you realise – who else is talking about this stuff, really? And with such uninterrupted, unwavering focus? It isn’t coded in metaphor. Instead Anohni opts for clear bare fact and raw, emotive truism. This is where it rises so triumphantly. Anohni surprises too, with arresting conceits. The opening track ‘Drone Bomb Me’, and one of the lead singles, imagines an orphaned Afghan girl pleading for death. ‘Watch Me’ darkly twist’s a child’s insistent pleas to an indifferent parent into a song about the oppressively paternal surveillance policies that trace both our movements, virtual and real, until even our private spaces are policed. That ‘Execution’ follows significantly takes surveillance to its violent ends, resonating with cases like Chelsea Manning, unabashedly decrying the state-sanctioned murder and also the woeful lack of protection for whistleblowers.
The repeated refrain of ‘4 DEGREES’ becomes mantra-like attack on “justified” inaction towards climate change. The brass feels almost Horn of Helm Hammerhand with its reverberating bass. HOPELESSNESS, in fact, is full to the brim with filmic inflections, the ‘more familiar’ patterning of production lifting Anohni’s emblematic, heart-rendering voice in both its higher and lower registers to rallying heights. Perhaps the most e/affective tracks are ‘Marrow’ and ‘Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth’. Both melodically beautiful, they play with their political content with the tension between aesthetic satisfaction and, again, the starkly simple revocations of essentially the insatiable ideology of greed. ‘Violent Men’ is wonderfully warpy and dark with satisfying crackling feedback. ‘Crisis’ has such a satisfying ending that again possesses a kind of filmic capacity to serve an aural gut-punch, which remarkably doesn’t come across as obvious nor as a cheap shot.
the album sustains its protest calls by pointing figures at something, Someone to rally Against
‘Obama’ is the most jarring, and sits uneasily in its mid-album place. Other tracks reference events, policy and crises but less specifically. Anohni’s damning address to Obama pinpoints her hurt, and it is understandable why she perhaps felt the need to consolidate her bleak HOPELESSNESS onto a tangible figure. So while being an indictment of everyone’s complicity, the album sustains its protest calls by pointing figures at something, someone to rally against. I’m not suggesting that Anonhi wants us to march on Obama, rather what he figurally represents (and as interviews attest, Anonhi’s got a complex idea of what this means). If “We are all Americans now,” Obama is wielding power to (directly or indirectly) placate us.
It is not a perfect album (few are), but it is an important album. It is an unrelenting protest album, taking society to task for our complicity and inaction. What Anonhi is doing is spectacular and vital, she offers up a genuinely, explicitly and accessibly politically-conscious album that cannot, should not, be ignored. Let’s hope this paves the way, a galvanizing cry to use what voices we have, what platforms we stand on, and what talents we have at our disposal, to challenge aggressive self-serving corruption; musician’s take note, so too, humanity.