Hopelessness by Anohni (formerly known as Antony Hegarty of band Antony And The Johnsons) is a blunt display of wrongdoings by the human race set to music. With an alluring voice intertwined with an enthralling electronic sound, Anohni lures listeners in before forcing them to confront truths which are hard to swallow. Just like “how a baby tastes sugar and wants more”, the music is “sugar to the ear”. It’s possible to dress atrocities up like this without sugar-coating the message in abstract metaphors which likely detract from the situation.
Often, her lyrics are ironic, “sometimes identifying with forces of destruction” and willing for bad things to happen. This is done for a reason: “I tried to keep a focus on myself in terms of addressing my complicity in so many of these issues — as a taxpayer, as a consumer, as a passive participant”, Anohni revealed to The New York Times. “I got to thinking perhaps as an artist, even as an artist with the best of intentions, that I was kind of a microcosm of the brokenness of the whole system. That within my body I contained the whole conflict”.
Songs which contain the aforementioned irony to some degree are: “Drone Bomb Me”, “4 DEGREES” (personal favourite), “Execution”, and “Marrow” which contain lyrics like “I wanna hear the dogs crying for water / I wanna see the fish go belly-up in the sea”.
In “Execution”, she even calls it “the American dream” as capital punishment is so prevalent in the U.S. This track is the most paradoxical in my opinion: the constant playful sound of the synthesizer makes the entire song sound even more jarring; a stark contrast to the topic. The word “execution” is repeated light-heartedly from someone who doesn’t identify with the positive twist it’s being given, and that’s what’s unsettling (yet extremely interesting). “Execution” is actually one of the most upbeat-sounding songs on the album.
In contrast, the most terrifying melody is present in “Obama”. The music alone sounds like that which would be played during a stereotypical satanic ritual, and Obama’s name is repeated, chant-like, several times. In the song, Anohni references the hope that people had for the president when he was elected, but it was soon apparent that it was a fairytale gone wrong. “We desperately hoped he’d manifest the heroic vision that might change America’s course. And how many weeks into office did he sign his first kill list?” Anohni asks in an interview with The Guardian.
Similarly, the following song, “Violent Men”, displays a chaotic and disturbing sound (is it coincidental that it follows “Obama”?). “We will never, never again / Give birth to violent men” is repeated amidst this sound, and instantly made me think of colonialism, wars, slavery, and how a vast majority – if not all – of it was orchestrated by men.
“Watch Me” is very Big Brother-esque, but the older male sibling is replaced by an all-seeing “Daddy” who, undoubtedly, has more control and authority than an older brother. “I know you love me / ‘Cause you’re always watching me” she sings. Often she repeats “watch me” in a way that makes me imagine a child running in their back garden, trying to impress their father. “Love”, of course, isn’t your typical sort of love. In this context, love means control which could be mistaken for genuine affection.
I couldn’t finish this review without putting the spotlight on “4 DEGREES”, the title of which could be referring to the idea that if the earth’s temperature raises by a mere 4 degrees Celsius, it would be enough to cause the death of one sixth of the world’s species. I am more impressed with the sound on this track, more so than the lyrics (the opposite applies to “Watch Me”).
It’s definitely the track that has the most impact on me. The atmosphere it conjures up is mind-blowing, largely due to the arresting sound of the drums and horns which command attention. The whole song is made up of lyrics that display her wish to revel in animals’ pain and destroy planet earth.
“My idea with ‘4 Degrees’ was to articulate for a minute, not my ideal vision of how I wanted to perceive my relationship to nature, but the reality”, she says. “If I could give a voice to my behavior, what would that voice be? Taking planes, enjoying first-world fossil fuel, an addict of first-world comfort. So it’s not entirely ironic. There’s actually something kind of desperate about it, too”. This song was released the day before the UN’s Climate Change Conference that took place in Paris.
I had only vaguely heard of Antony And The Johnsons, and I certainly hadn’t heard of Anohni until I discovered Hopelessness. Now? I find myself clicking article after article to find out more about her and the album. My focus in this review was largely on lyrics and meaning, but I don’t want that to eradicate the fact that the music was also great and possessed so much depth. Hopelessness is out now on Rough Trade, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Shanade McConney