Hopelessness

Issue section: 
(415)

In a year that has seen many great artists pass away, those still living and working among us can be overlooked. One such artist is Anohni, whose work under her former group Antony and the Johnsons has attracted international acclaim with albums such as the Mercury Prize-winning “I Am a Bird Now” and “The Crying Light”.

Her dramatic, other-worldly vocal style and intimate music have previously inhabited the world of torch song popularised by the likes of Marc Almond and the dark glamour of her mentor Lou Reed. But Anohni has undergone a remarkable transformation.

Publicly identified as trans since the beginning of the year, and having recently undergone a formal and pronoun change, her new album “Hopelessness” is a collaboration with two of the most daring electronic artists around, Ross Birchard (aka Hudson Mohawke) and Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never), the results of which form the most politicised work of her career so far.

Anohni has described Hopelessness as “an electronic record with some sharp teeth”, and its uncompromising mood is set by the opener, “Drone Bomb Me”, a love song to a weapon of mass destruction delivered as words of desire to an absent and unseen lover. The lyrics are chilling yet seductive: “Let me be the first/I’m not that innocent/The one that you choose from above/After all, I’m partly to blame”.

The scale of ambition is further demonstrated by “4 Degrees”, an ecstatic paean to global warming, an open-armed acceptance of absolute extinction: “I want to see this world/I want to see it boil/It’s only 4 degrees”. This juxtaposition of despairing lyrical ideas against ascending melodies is one that Anohni repeatedly uses for maximum impact, an extension of her assertion that she had “grown tired of grieving for humanity”.

Instead, she becomes the target, the scapegoat, the victim of everything from the death penalty (“Execution”), the ravages of the fossil fuel industry (“Marrow”) and the all-seeing eyes of the intelligence services (“Watch Me”). Birchard and Lopatin’s backdrops are both challenging and exhilarating.

“Obama” is one of the great protest songs of recent times, a relentless moan of glowering anger and mass frustration: “When you were elected/The world cried for joy/We thought we had empowered/The truth telling envoy”. The descent from hope to hopelessness is brutally laid bare in this spectacular piece of amorphous electronics created by Anohni and Lopatin.

The final lyric is damning in its pitiless verdict: “All the hope drained from your face/Like children we believed”. Throughout, Anohni’s voice is commanding, ruthless, seductive, moving beyond gender into a truly compassionate space that cannot be confined, and yet still part of that great lineage of great pop singers from David Bowie to Prince and everyone in between. “Hopelessness” is her political clarion call, and her masterpiece.