It is difficult to determine the most arresting aspect of ANOHNI’s first solo release, Hopelessness. Throughout the album, ANOHNI (who rose to fame as singer of Antony and the Johnsons) deploys a rich, seemingly omnipresent voice, stark against a minimal and haunting synth backdrop. Although many listeners and critics have focused on her biting lyrics and lyrics, Hopelessness‘s music is a compelling force in its own right. Thanks in part to production from dark electronic masters Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, the album’s music is simultaneously magnetic and detached, or even liberated. Few of the album’s songs reduce to a simple verse-chorus structure. Instead, the tracks approximate the vast, globalized networks that ANOHNI critiques.
Hopelessness‘s most prominent strength, however, grows from ANOHNI’s ability to weave horror and glitz into a complex skein. ANOHNI sets an audacious tone with the opening track’s title — “Drone Bomb Me” — before the listener has heard a measure of music. In a luscious, perhaps even flirtatious tone, she croons, “Blow my head off/Explode my crystal guts.” Waves of seduction, fear and disgust continually overtake the listener. Resisting the beauty of ANOHNI’s tracks is difficult; denying the power of their messages is nearly impossible.
Throughout Hopelessness, ANOHNI faces down capital punishment (“Execution”), surveillance (“Watch Me”) and patriarchal violence (“Violent Men”). Vocally, ANOHNI probes at a grey area between beauty and grotesqueness, perhaps even parodying artists who glorify dark subject matter. Consider, for example, the way she drags the word “execution” out over syllables and slight vocal warbles. ANOHNI’s lyrical minimalism, too, adds to the intensity of many of her protests. Rather than seeming holier-than-thou, her songs offer potent vignettes into moments of pain, such as when she asks, “If I killed your father with a drone bomb/How would you feel?” in “Crisis.” Despite the simplicity of many of its tracks, and the directness of many of its messages, Hopelessness will undoubtedly be a long-relevant album despite its modern context.