#47: ANOHNI – “Hopelessness” (2016)

Hopelessness is something I haven’t heard before, which could be a result of my lack of musical knowledge, or (I’m inclined to think in this case) could be because it’s genuinely something that doesn’t exist anywhere else: jazz-like vocals, electronic dance music backing, and the most on-the-nose 2016 political sentiment I’ve yet heard set to music. There’s a song about climate change, several about US military interventions around the world. One of my favourites is “Watch Me”, about state surveillance. Of course, this political album that is so heavily grounded in last year is called Hopelessness. Is it actually hopeless? I don’t know. These are not easy times to be an optimist. What I will say for Hopelessness is that it’s relentless. It’s fascinating. It’s not at all what I was expecting. It’s brilliant, is what it is.

Anohni is the former main vocalist of Antony and the Johnsons, whose music a) I remember liking very much at the time, and b) sounded extremely different from this. Given the choice, I’d ordinarily head towards the more acoustic end of things – and Anohni’s voice is, let’s face it, extremely well suited to that. But if this is what she does with a bit more creative control on her hands, then I’m here for it.

Here is a five-minute song that feels much shorter, and which plays very well to Anohni’s vocal strengths. I would never in a million years have thought of doing it.

And that’s the thing – an unexpected, thoughtful album for an unexpected year. “4 Degrees” is, I see from my notes, what I think of as “heartbeat music”, which is to say music that goes slightly faster than my heartbeat and therefore gives me all the feelings. “Violent Men” is abstract and weird and chillingly ironic, repeating “Never again” over and over. “Obama” has tones of some kind of religious dirge, alongside and interspersed with electronic dance music. I don’t understand how a person manages to fit this much cold fury into EDM.

“Crisis” is pure poetry and weaponised empathy – there’s a lot of that in here, empathy for, and vocalising of, the victims that don’t make it into the usual narrative. Put all that into dance music and… and it says something. It works. It works really well.

I wouldn’t have picked Hopelessness up without this project. I’m glad I did. November is an extremely busy month but I’ll be turning this one over in my head for a while.