Listening to Hopelessness, I’m reminded of Lou Reed’s line, “Vicious, you hit me with a flower” - because where Anohni’s previous releases as Antony and The Johnsons have mostly been inward-directed rakings-over of personal concerns of identity, this first album from his/her newly-adopted female persona applies that tenderest of vocal deliveries with a new, barbed attitude, to issues of grim political reality. These are angry sentiments, delivered with delicacy. As an object lesson in how you don’t need to shout to make your point, the best of these songs are up there with such subtly effective protest anthems as “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “What’s Going On”.
As befits a protest album, Anohni ditches the rarefied chamber arrangements of previous releases for a more modern, populist EDM approach, furnished by producers Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke: announcing its release in February, she described it as “an electronic record with some sharp teeth” - not least in “Obama”, where she criticises the president for “betraying virtues” and “punishing whistleblowers”, intoning his name as “Ohhh, bummer” over a swirling miasma of synths, before concluding with a characteristically sad piano figure.
The most effective track is the opener “Drone Bomb Me”, written from the perspective of a young Afghan girl, begging to join her family already killed by US drones. “Let me be the one you choose tonight,” she sings, “After all, I’m hardly to blame,” amidst an explosion of brittle percussion and sparkling synth tones. The dark, sardonic irony continues with the global-warming protest “4 Degrees”. Over cavernous drum sounds, dramatic synth brass and keyboards, she applies a bitter sarcasm: “I want to burn the sky, I want to burn the breeze, I want to burn the animals in the trees”. But it’s so toxic, she scorches herself with complicity.
So it is too with other issues, Anohni criticising herself for greed and selfishness in songs such as “Watch Me” and “Hopelessness”; while in “Execution”, she aligns the US with North Korea, Saudi Arabia and China for its eagerness to execute. A similar internationalism is employed in the closing Aids/chemotherapy lament “Marrow”, where over wriggling synth lines like multiplying bacteria, she acknowledges that "We are, we are all Americans now / Suck the, suck the money out of her face”. A bitterly beautiful album.
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