The gulf between personal ideology and IRL practice is often wider than we want to admit. On her new album, Hopelessness, British musician Anohni challenges the listener to narrow the gap between the two and confront the ways in which they've altered the former to match a more comfortable form of the latter.
Over a sonic landscape that spans hook-laden synthpop to sweeping orchestral movements and amelodic noise, Anohni explores the various responses an individual might have to a host of inconvenient truths: climate change, drone warfare, cultural imperialism, capital punishment, government surveillance, male violence, marginalization, and disillusionment with hegemonic institutions. (The last of which echoes her open letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences explaining why she would not be attending the 2016 ceremony, despite being the first transgender performer ever nominated for an Oscar.) The album raises many questions, but, per music writer Sasha Geffen's MTV News review, it "offers no such answers." As a result, Hopelessness might be one of the most aptly titled albums released in years.
At times on the album—Anohni's first full-length effort as a solo artist, following four LPs with her band, Antony and the Johnsons—the protagonist deludes herself into trusting existing power structures, pathologizing the myths that support her treatment under them. As she sings to her surveillance state "daddy" on "Watch Me":
I know you love me
'Cause you're always watching me
Case I'm involved in evil
Case I'm involved in terrorism
Case I'm involved in child molesters
Case I'm involved in evil
Elsewhere on the LP, the "choke me, daddy" act gives way to something more resistant. She throws her allegiance on a pyre and sets it out to sea on "I Don't Love You Anymore," a breakup anthem-cum-hymnal dirge, while "Obama" finds her weighing her optimistic expectations for the president against the reality of his administration's continued "spying," "punishing [of] whistle-blowers," and "executing without trial."
That passion dissipates as Hopelessness draws to a close. "How did I become a virus?" Anohni's character asks in resignation on the LP's title track. Whether through support or inaction, she is partially responsible for perpetuating the violent systems she operates under, and now she's holding herself accountable for uncritically conflating sex with violence ("Drone Bomb Me"), valuing personal convenience over the rest of the planet ("4 Degrees"), and a variety of other sins.
Anohni's pose of performative naïveté isn't always successful; the ironic references to how awful Westerners imagine life to be in countries like North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria do little to actually challenge those myopic viewpoints, for example. And the lyrics can feel more than a little ham-fisted at times. (Again, there's literally a song called "Drone Bomb Me.") But perhaps a cold slice of deli meat to the face is the exactly wake-up call we need. If only we had time to heed its warning.
Anohni's Hopelessness is available now on Secretly Canadian.
Bad at filling out bios seeks same.