After almost eight years in the White House, Barack Obama’s second term as U.S. President is set to come to an end. Elected on a huge wave of optimism, Obama’s soaring rhetoric promising a “change we can believe in” after nearly two decades of abuses by the George W. Bush administration was exactly what the American people were looking for. Despite his promises though, the wars expanded, drone attacks and government surveillance increased, whistleblowers were prosecuted and action on climate change was limited at best.
With “hope and change” becoming a case of more of the same, many people began to question whether their faith had been misplaced. One person is ANOHNI, formerly Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, who has decided to express her feelings on her latest album, HOPELESSNESS. Along with the new name comes a change in style, with her operatic falsetto carrying very personal lyrics previously being backed by chamber music, HOPELESSNESS is set amongst electronic beats featuring more direct and political lyrics. ANOHNI is tired of focussing on her own story and wants to discuss the bigger picture, hoping that her politicised brand of electronic music can act as a “Trojan Horse” to stimulate the wider conversation into meaningful action.
She’s fully aware of the risks involved, but assisting are her two very accomplished producers. The first is Hudson Mohawke, one hip-hop’s rising stars whose low, brassy beats make up more than half of HOPELESSNESS. The second is Oneohtrix Point Never, whose avant-electronica provides the album with some of its more experimental leanings. It’s not the first time ANOHNI has dabbled in electronica, featuring on the disco-influenced “Blind” by Hercules & Love Affair in 2008. It’s also not the first time she’s tackled political issues, with 2009’s Crying Light featuring some environmental themed songs, as did the Oscar-nominated “Manta Ray” taken from the documentary Racing Extinction.
HOPELESSNESS contains some excellent moments, especially both of its lead-singles, the tenderly sung “Drone Bomb Me” exploring extra-judicial killings, and the angry climate anthem “4 Degrees”. Both are backed by superb beats, the former by Hudson Mohawke, featuring chiming and synthetic strings, and the latter, a joint effort, being an almost apocalyptic combination of horns and war drums. Beats and production-wise, HOPELESSNESS remains solid throughout, and for the most part ANOHNI does a good job of getting her points across with strong and passionate vocals and lyrics that are even more blunt and uncompromising than usual. “Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth?” and “Crisis” being two further examples of this.
However, HOPELESSNESS too often loses its momentum thanks to some quite clumsy lyrics and odd choices of delivery, with her decision to sing “Obama” in a dreary, Druidic-like manner and the heavily treated vocals on “Violent Men” both weighing the album down. Despite its flaws though, it’s a commendable effort overall and not just an exercise in preachy, finger-pointing. ANOHNI is fully aware of her own culpability in the world’s problems, like on “Drone Bomb Me” where she states that “After all, I’m partly to blame…”, and on title-track which goes even further by asking; “How did I become a virus?” In the end though, she doesn’t quite pull it off but ANOHNI certainly deserves credit for taking the risk in the first place and at least trying to inspire us all to consider the bigger picture more readily.
Top Tracks: Drone Bomb Me; 4 Degrees; Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth?; Crisis
Released: 06 May 2016
Genres: Art Pop, Electronica
Label: Rough Trade
Producers: Hudson Mohawke and Oneothrix Point Never
Rating: Strong 7