Music Reviews

Anohni Hopelessness

(Hopelessness) Rating - 8/10

It’s always a tricky proposition when a pop artist decides to rile against the world. Even as we face many hot-button issues in the midst of primary season, there continues to be a widespread lack of political awareness from many of today’s most popular voices. The artists themselves don’t seem too concerned, so why should anyone else? Especially recently, when there’s been a rising trend in politicizing what isn’t there: the media has found numerous ways to bring Beyoncé into the conversation as a feminist trailblazer, as if she’s leaving a trail of artful clues for the rest of us to decipher (as remarkable as Lemonade is, it’s strictly a painfully honest account on marital dissolution), while on the other side of the prism there's the cozy relationship musicians have with politicians to circumvent more pressing matters with frivolous amusements, to say the least (the fact that an innocent Drake dis to President Obama made national headlines, and that he actually responded, is as embarrassing as it is concerning).

Antony Hegarty is as agitated as we are about the current state of affairs, and she’s been boiling up that rage for years, to the point where she can’t just take it anymore. And she’s actually not afraid to vocalize her grief, even when she’s not necessarily interested in giving out any of the specifics, either. Better known for her chamber-pop project Antony & the Johnsons, Hegarty has completely rebranded her image: while her work with Antony has mostly embraced a spiritual softness, her newfound defiance with her new moniker Anohni is just as vulnerable, except that she’s now communicating those bare emotions with a cold and uncompromising eye. What hasn’t changed, however, is that voice, a powerful vibratto that can tug into one’s deepest emotions with the most sensible and unpresuming touch.

It was important for Hegarty to make that stark distinction between projects, as Hopelessness just doesn’t have a place in Antony’s more classical leanings. The first words she utters are chilling: "Drone bomb me/Blow me from the mountains," she sings with vitriol even when it's expressed with a dramatic delicacy in album opener Drone Bomb Me, a song that’s spoken from the point of view of an Afghan girl whose family falls victim to a drone strike. The images she uses are always upfront, as shocking and hurtful as they may read: "The rotten bodies threaded gold/the pitch of hair and sticky meat," she details in the otherwise uplifting Why did you separate me from the Earth?, where it sounds like Hegarty is questioning her place in a world that has turned mad and morally corrupt. She highlights how our actions can determine a definite course of action, and how oblivious and insignificant we are to the real resolve: in 4 Degrees, she repeats the words "I wanna see this world, I wanna see it boil" with blunt sincerity, making a reference to how scientific studies show that we’re at risk of suffering an increase of 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

Hegarty never exploits these issues in an attempt to sermonize or inform, but she is deeply invested in creating a claustrophobic musical experience that exhibits a striking sense of apocalyptic anxiety. In writing Hopelessness, Hegarty enlisted electronic producers Hudson Mohawke and Oneothrix Point Never (aka Daniel Lopatin) to give her a hand in creating a dance record with resonance. It seems like an odd pairing of sorts, though in that distinct polarity she was able to cobble together a collage of odd, disparate sounds that come together with impressive uniformity. Most of Hopelessness is filled with these stomping percussive elements that are reminiscent of trap music, like in the aforementioned Drone Bomb Me, which sports the kind of grandiose synth flourishes that could easily pass as some uplifting soccer chant. There’s an unfettered buoyancy in Hopelessness that intends to unify, and especially in times of global downfall: she seeks empathy from those who don’t take any responsibility for their wrongdoings ("Daughter/If I filled up your mass graves and attacked your countries under false premise/ I'm sorry") in Crisis, a haunting number with euphoric and chiming textures that sounds loads more affecting that anything off of Coldplay’s A Head Full of Clouds.

Most of Hopelessness, as optimistic as it may sound, does mainly offer a shrilling intensity that oozes through a bleak landscape. One of the album’s most harrowing and disturbing moments comes in the track Obama, a highly critical take on Barack Obama's iconic slogan of "hope" prior to his election in 2008. Hegarty slurs his words with a striking funeral gloom. “All the hope drained from your face/Like children we believed," questioning his true motives on issues like privacy, surveillance, and his nebulous actions on foreign policy. The same goes for Violent Men, which has Daniel Lopatin’s fingerprints all over with its frightening textural juxtapositions. It serves to mention that Lopatin’s contributions in the album come across like the bedraggled, atonal sounds of his last project Garden of Delete, except that he’s finally given a semblance of pop sensibility to that album’s unyielding, fragmented elements.

Aside from dubstep-resembling "I Don’t Love You Anymore”, a breakup song that doesn’t really mesh within the political context of Hopelessness, there’s hardly any fault to find in Hegarty’s incredibly imaginative portrait of a world that’s in dire need of some reformation. It’s quite brave of her to step away from the frail intimacy of her Antony records to produce an otherwise exuberant effort that’s both sides tenderly caring and sensually provocative. And yet there’s a deep-seated unease coming from her that’s enormously authentic. In Marrow, a starry, glistening array of skittering synths opens up with the covertly sardonic line "We’re all Americans now," going on to name all the major nations, which doesn’t seem too clear: is she referring to the United States as a whole, a conglomerate of all kinds of ethnicities and nationalities, or is it because the rest of the world is acclimating to America’s core values and ill-defined views on freedom of expression?

Maybe it’s too much to ask from a pop record, and rightfully so, given that Hegarty’s subjective views stem from a humanistic level and are not entirely driven from facts. But her compassion and impartiality towards others in Hopelessness, to find some common ground with one another, is filled with true examples of spiritual allegory. She’s only asking for a little more cooperation, an act that Hegarty knows is easier said than done. [Believe the Hype]