With the success and critical acclaim that ANOHNI’s debut LP, Hopelessness (2016), generated, big things were inevitably expected of vocalist and composer, Anthony Hegarty. Less than a year later, former lead singer of Antony And The Johnsons returns with a companion piece to Hopelessness, ironically entitled Paradise.
While Paradise can be considered the little sister to ANOHNI’s full-length debut, the track length is the only thing small about this record. Sonically, Hegarty has created an expansive and, at times, limitless work. This EP is in places both cavernous and celestial, and therefore, perhaps slightly confused.
Paradise opens with the brooding and atmospheric intro, “In My Dreams”. Here, ANOHNI creates something of an obscure dreamscape. Lyrically sparse, the track is evocative of some sort of subconscious, ambient darkness.
Standing in stark contrast to the murky opener, the EP’s title track jolts towards a more manufactured sound. Featuring stock drum machine loops and synths with a touch of fuzz, “Paradise” leans a bit too closely towards the type of production that might appear in a Tinie Tempah tune than one may like.
With words which evoke abstract images of eternity and ANOHNI’s vocals capturing a haunting intensity, the track’s over-production seems particularly jarring, particularly for it to retreat into intriguing dissonance and static that is more in keeping with “In My Dreams”.
Paradise’s third track, the searing and apocalyptic “Jesus Will Kill You”, plays not only as a warning to a certain “mean old man” (are you listening, Donald?), but as a slight on global capitalism and the systematic destruction of the planet in the name of financial gain.
ANOHNI paints an infernal picture of “Burning fields in Iraq/Burning fields in Nigeria/Burning oceans/Burning population/Our burning lungs” but warns that the injuries and injustices inflicted on earth in the name of profit will not go unjudged. Musically, “Jesus Will Kill You” samples African woodwind while incorporating more weighty electronics, resulting in the track veering off in two directions instead of fusing into a fully cohesive body.
Following the fire and damnation of “Jesus Will Kill You”, Paradise’s fourth track begins with gentle and rich acapella in which ANOHNI’s vocals are somewhat reminiscent of the late Arthur Russell in their tonality. Once again, “You Are My Enemy” is a work replete with interesting contrasts. The purity of the vocal arrangement stands in relief to the evocations of the cursing enemy produced within.
The penultimate track on the EP begins with industrial, thumping percussion which accompanies characteristically gentle vocals from Hegarty. The chorus then sees the English-born singer adopt a more powerful, soulful vocal approach.
The echoes of Arthur Russell are still present in “Ricochet”, but ANOHNI shows she is able to match the might of her production with equal vocal measure. “Ricochet”’s vocal style is in parts more befitting of the song’s lyrical content, with Hegarty warning of powerful response in the form of hateful retribution.
As a complete work, Paradise is not without its contradictions. With a surface-level analysis of ANOHNI’s lyrics there is no denying that this collection of songs attempts to be a very serious piece of art. Yet, the gravity of the lyrical content often seems unmatched by the musical arrangement. The moments of great depth and mood too quickly move towards overproduction. Consequently, the subject matter, if not undermined, is overwhelmed.
ANOHNI has a hauntingly beautiful voice; one which intertwines wonderfully with the EP’s more organic and cerebral moments, the only shame is that there are not quite enough of them. ANOHNI’s Paradise EP can be purchased on iTunes, here.
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Words by Dan Carabine