Record of the Week

ANOHNI “Hopelessness”

(Rough Trade Records / Beggars Group)

Music in a time of omnipresent violence. A task that musicians are confronted with nowadays in light of an never-ending series of martial and terrorist lacerations in our world. But not everyone is as sensitive as ANOHNI and don’t get involved as drastic with the task.

It may have gotten around, that ANOHNI is the same singer, who only last year was to be seen on the festival stages as the singer of Antony and the Johnsons. The final step of redefining her own identity doesn’t come as a surprise, gender has always been a fluid concept for Antony Hegarty.

A first precursor for “Hopelessness“ was released in the run-up to the COP-21-climate conference in Paris. “4 Degrees“ is a musical protest song, that was supposed to sensitize the people for this existential moment in their history. In contrast to the canon of subjects on „Hopelessness“, whose title doesn’t allow false promises, this was the lightest topic in a repertoire of darkness.

How crassly ANOHNI is willing to text is proven by the first song “Drone Bomb Me“, also the second single of the album, made into film with Naomi Campbell in the leading suffering role: “Drone bomb me/ Blow me from the mountains/ And into the sea” a little Afghan girl is pleading to the sky of drones to take her as her dead relatives. You have to think hard, to remember a song with a similarly brutal lyrical picture, that was constructed as rhetorically as clever as this. For example “Frankie Teardrop” from Suicide, this over nihilistic horror-working-class-song from Alan Vega and Martin Rev, in which the 20 year old factory worker Frankie, worn down by his job, which hardly brings enough money to feed the family, comes home and executes his wife and children:

Frankie picked up a gun / Pointed at the six month old in the crib / Oh Frankie / Frankie looked at his wife / Shot her / “Oh what have I done? / Let´s hear it for Frankie / Frankie teardrop / Frankie put the gun to his head / Frankies dead”.

While at Antony and the Johnsons a chamber music like sound space built the atmospheric background for the as particular as catchy vocals of Hegarty, „Hopelessness“ does sire a spirit of departure, with which ANOHNI holds the fist of her self-empowered new existence towards her bleak setting. Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never did produce a hybrid of dance beats and futuristic beats for her, that virtually clings magnetically to the accusatory, siren like vocals. At first this might seem like a change of paradigms, but in the end it isn’t. The electronic music on „Hopelessness“ has more in common with the comprehension of sound of someone like Scott Walker than with productions of  Andrew Butler aka Hercules and Love affair, with whom Hegarty celebrate real dance epiphany-moments five years ago.

Who thought that an increase in vehemence, with wich Hegarty presents us with her way of looking at things, wasn’t possible after “Drone Bomb Me“ will experience some more surprising moments in this theater of cruelty, that takes on an Artaud-like scale. For example in the profoundly disturbing “Watch Me“, in wich once again a child (in a dialog with it’s father) sings to us: about the attraction of the wicked, about the omnipresence of pornography, and also very specific about child molesters and terrorists. Or in the crystal clear-prancing “Execution“, which praises the horrible ritual of execution as the American dream in the tradition of Chinese, Saudi, North Korean or Nigerian people.

After this it’s time for the very last prayer. No one here believes that it might help anymore: Therefore “I Don’t Love You Anymore“ does begin as a reminiscence at the old Antony sound in exalted liturgy, but very soon the break beats sound at the horizon as sound signal of the protagonist’s longing for death, and the lights are flashing through the kitchen window, just as they did in the last scene of John Carpenter’s “The Fog“. Similarly brilliant do later Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never accompany the narrative in “Violent Men“, whose noise interference does literally tear your ear apart in the tradition of Pan Sonic.

In between these two songs Hegarty did position her “Obama“, the saddest of all sad songs of the album. Once again with the picture of a child on the lips, she makes up the final balance of the American dream of the president, that was supposed to make the world once again a better place, accompanied with a sacral-electrifying thunder of drone, noise, breakbeats:

When you were elected / The world cried for joy / We thought we had empowered / The truth telling envoy / Now the news is you are spying / Executing without trial / Betraying virtues / Scarring closed the sky / Punishing the whistle blowers / Those who tell the truth / Do you recognize the yellow / staring back at you? / Obama / Obama / Obama / All the hope drained from your face / Like children we believed“

In the end, after ANOHNI has sung the last drops of blood after the name Obama, the piano may stand free for a couple of bars.

But ANOHNI isn’t just at odds with the secular leaders, she also bodes ill for god and his kind in “Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth“ accompanied by whip-like chord-flushes. Like Struwwelpeter to his soup she defies the church’s promises of salvation: I don’t want your future / Im never coming home / I don’t want your future / Ill be born before you’re born“.

Renounced from promises of civilization and believe the album ends with the arc from the archaic past to the current rural flight – but the happy end through self-optimization, that the generation organic chows and yoga lesson reckons to find there, our protagonist won’t allow us this illusion. Instead just “Hopelessness“:

I, who curled in cave and moss / I, who gathered wood for fire / and tenderly embraced / How did I become a virus? / Hopelessness / I feel the hopelessness / I don’t care about me / I feel the animals and the trees / They got nowhere to go“.

How could it get so far? As far as ANOHNI is concerned it’s all the fault of the Americans. Ans so her album tapers away with the last lines of “Marrow“: Suck the oil out of her face / Burn her hair, boil her skin / We are all Americans now“.

In the end you just enjoy the silence. But it’s not a silence that let’s you ease down: the blood is vibrating, the thoughts are rotating so wildly, that the head hurts.

Should you re-listen “Hopelessness“ immediately again?
Is that even possible?
It hast to.
There is no other way.

How will ANOHNI proceed? What will be the next step, as an artist, as a musician? At the moment I’m lacking the imagination to see a next album, as consequently as she exposed herself to the pain, that this oh so modern, oh so enlightened world keeps ready for us.
Thomas Venker

What a coup: In the video for „Drone Bomb Me“ you can see Naomi Campbell crying while gentle suggestive R’’n’B-Trip-Dub is sounding and the blood-curdling lyrics:

“Drone bomb me/ Blow me from the mountains/ And into the sea/ Blow me from the side of the mountain/ Blow my head off/ Explode my crystal guts/ Lay my purple on the grass”

Sung by ANOHNI, who once was Antony Hegarty from Antony and the Johnsons. The video, shot by director Nabil, permits different interpretations, but ANOHNI makes it plain, that the song is sung from the perspective of a Afghani girl, who’s family was killed by American drone bombs. The desperate girl wants to die in the same way. Scenes/lyrics that are this drastic, rarely ever occur in pop music, apart from the variety of metal- and goth-sub-genres. But not in the style that is suitable for charts or mainstream, that ANOHNI is quite familiar with – who hasn’t sung together with Antony/ANOHNI? From Lou Reed to Marianne Faithfull, Joan As Policewoman and Marc Almond to Herbert Grönemeyer – ANOHNI likes to accords her favor, but never randomly.

How seriously the artist in fact takes her role as a pop musician, is becoming clear with the new album: “Hopelessness“ is as relevant as never before with it’s direct reference to global political subjects (wars, ecological destruction, torture, presidential elections, death penalty), and still unambiguously ANOHNI. Although it does sound differently from her earlier works: “Hopelessness“ is a co-operation with Hudson Mohawke and Daniel Lopatin/Oneohtrix Point Never, which means that it’s the departure from sacral classical arrangements to modern electronic – which is largely being modified gently, despite its distinct beats “Hopelessness“ is not a dance-album. ANOHNI’s unique softly vibrating tremolo dominates the tracks, wether it is accompanied by a piano or a MIDI controller. But the electro arrangements are an utterly blessing for ANOHNI’s concerns, making people realize the dramatic developments in the here and now. “Execution“ for example: “Execution / is an American dream“ is said in the lyrics; or “4 Degrees“, which was released suitably for the world climate conference last November – the electronic sound removes the other-worldly, abstracted from ANOHNI’s vocals, and positions her in the middle of the events. “‘Hopelessness‘ is our first album as a true body, which is housed, now, in the soulful shelter of sound.“ It’s rare that artists characterize their work so fittingly.
Christina Mohr


Translation. Denise Oemcke

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