Anohni - 'Hopelessness' Review
Antony of Antony & The Johnsons is now Anohni, and she makes relevant, uncringey protest music
Much has changed since Antony Hegarty’s last album, 2010’s ‘Swanlights’. Now calling herself Anohni, she’s traded in her outsider folk cabaret for a cutting edge electronic pop sound co-produced by Hudson Mohawke and avant-garde synth guru Oneohtrix Point Never. But those aren’t even the most remarkable things about ‘Hopelessness’, an album of righteous political fury that’s all the more powerful for being delivered so exquisitely.
Take the devastating opener, ‘Drone Bomb Me’, in which Anohni’s defiant tremor inhabits a girl whose family were killed by a drone attack and who now yearns for the same swift ending. “Blow my head off,” she demands over luscious, shimmering R&B. It’s hard to think of a more affecting recent response to state-sponsored brutality in any medium.
Not all of Anohni’s attempts to make the political personal are quite so successful. Occasionally it can feel like she’s just reading out Guardian headlines, but an undercurrent of simmering anger is palpable throughout. Anohni reserves particular ire for Barack Obama; on the song that bears his name, she pitches her voice down menacingly to castigate the president who promised so much yet still sanctioned “executing without trial” and “punishing the whistle-blowers”.
For the most part though, ‘Hopelessness’ shows that you don’t have to make dissonant, clashing music to express fury. Sometimes sweetly savage irony can be more effective, as demonstrated by ‘Watch Me’ (a cutting send-up of NSA snooping) and the perky radio pop of ‘Execution’ (“execution, it’s the American dream!”). Closing track ‘Marrow’ is another case in point, an almost unbearably lovely chord progression over which Anohni gently sings a list of world countries before bitterly asserting: “We are all Americans now”. ‘Crisis’ takes a different tack, asking simply, “How would you feel if I tortured your brother?” before building to a crescendo of emotional apologies.
Making relevant, accessible, uncringey protest music in this day and age is such a difficult task that most artists have decided not to bother. Anohni has been brave enough to take that risk, and the most vital album of recent times is the reward. “I feel the hopelessness,” she sings forlornly on the melancholy title track – but of course the value of an album like this is that it suggests things might not be hopeless after all.
Record label: Rough Trade
Release date: 06 May, 2016