Part of our Albums of the Year 2016
Anohni enlists the stadium-sized production talents of Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke to realize her vision of Hopelessness. A startlingly widescreen viewpoint of social injustice laid bare, marking it as one of the most visionary yet politically charged pop records to emerge in 2016.
Having previously recorded with the group-name Antony And The Johnsons, Hopelessness is her debut album under the Anohni name; continuing the tradition of haunting vocal chamber-music but now set with a "glossy, plastic sound” to confront issues of surveillance, drone warfare, capital punishment, and the environment.
Conceived and recorded over a three year period with Warp’s Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) - originally working as a duo they sought to build the record as "a kind of Blade Runner–Kitarō–Japanimation soundtrack”. In 2014 Ross Birchard (Hudson Mohawke) played host to Anohni as special guest at his New York headline show and in the months that followed they began to collaborate on a number of songs in sessions in Manhattan, London & Berlin. Together they recorded ‘Indian Steps’ for Hudson’s 'Lantern' album in 2015. Describing to the New York Times Anohni’s choice to enlist Birchard to the album she was quoted as saying “the kind of relentless, exuberant, almost ecstatic positiveness of Hudson’s music was the perfect foil for more challenging lyrics than people would be used to hearing from me.” And with this, the canvas was set for Anohni to unleash politically-charged lyrics to create one of the most experimental yet devastatingly truthful underground crossover records of 2016.
The music that forms the backdrop of the record finds a balance between the vast, cinematic, synth-heavy sounds that Hud Mo is famed for; while OPN’s slick, gazing-into-the-matrix, electronic touches add an element of the outer reaches of the underground club cluture that he often abstracts.
From this structure the lyrics find steady foot. The lyrics of 'Hopelessness’ title track paint a stark vision of the present akin to a far off future once depicted by J.G. Ballard. Opener ‘Drone Bomb Me’ takes the perspective of a seven-year-old girl whose family have been killed by anonymous sentinel - with lyrics “Blow my head off/Explode my crystal guts” evoke endless horrors of war. The dark lullaby ‘Violent Men’ features the immortal line "never again give birth to violent men”. This running theme of violence is strong throughout and carries a hard-hitting sober cry for help. Throughout the record Anohni appeals for all to open their eyes to the world around us, and the terrible decimations that feed into our lives as we read the news.
Commenting on the environment ‘4 degrees’ pushes forward the message of climate change and asserts that we’ve perhaps gone too far to reverse the damage done to the earth. One of the record's greatest tracks, ‘Watch Me’ depicts a George Orwell style statewide black mirror style surveillance that shadows our every move. The lyrics split between acceptance of a situation whilst escaping a global 21st century laptop-led loneliness that haunts many yet is rarely spoken about. 'Watch me in my hotel room, Watch my outline as I move from city to city' and 'Protecting me from evil, Protecting me from terrorism' wake us up to a modern reality: a world complacent with surveillance where masses are expressed in a Google maps timeline of our lives. Endless computations of our daily activities recorded to vast servers out of view. Facing politics head-on, 'Obama' (written during the NSA scandal) expresses Anohni's strong disappointment in Obama's presidency. In reflection of the current political climate of America it would be fascinating to hear how Anohni’s perspective has updated.
In conclusion ‘Hopelessness' is a record about survival and the modern fight for the individual to remain free. In a difficult time - one where it can be difficult to avoid wallowing in endlessly crushing waves of bad news - Anohni, Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke have asserted a twilight synthetic protest record that feels urgent. An uplifting battle cry. Hold on and fight oppression at whatever cost, whenever possible.