Hopelessness. If you’re awake, how do you not wrestle with it? Even from the relative safety enjoyed by Americans, the more you read, the more you see, the more you live… it can seem almost impossible to remain optimistic for the future of your country, your world. It’s the new ennui, a millennial malaise of sorts — with each year that passes, it becomes easier to learn more about our world, and easier to come to the conclusion that we’re doomed. But once you gain this knowledge, this perspective, what do you do with it?
For ANOHNI, the artist formerly known as Antony Hegarty, Hopelessness is the the answer to that question. In her early work with chamber pop group Antony and the Johnsons, lyrically, she looked inward — I Am a Bird Now documents a very personal struggle of identity and belonging. On her latest LP, a collaboration with producers Hudson Mohawk and Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never), she further codifies the tenets of her Future Feminism, shouldering the burden of the Mother, the spiritual matriarch of the organism of which we are all a part: Earth.
Musically, Hopelessness sounds like the culmination of the disparate elements of Antony’s career. It’s uptempo, but not quite as dance-y as her work with Hercules & Love Affair. The production is more cyborg than chamber pop — a wonderful symbiosis of OPN’s glitchy sound design and HM’s club-ready drum programming. On “Violent Men,” a flipped vocal sample is twisted into what sounds like a ’90s hip-hop horn sample. And the droney bass of ANOHNI’s voice on “Obama” is off-putting at first, but by the time the arrangement hits full swing halfway through, you can see how well the layers fit together.
Hopelessness has already been dubbed a “protest” record, and in a sense, it certainly is that. ANOHNI rails against the willful destruction of the climate (“4 Degrees”), government surveillance (“Watch Me”), indefinite detention without trial (“Crisis”), execution by drone (“Drone Bomb Me”), and the broken promises of Barack Obama. But you won’t find much policy or detail here — through that voice, the words reveal a deep, powerful empathy, an open nerve. She could be accused of being reductionist, but the people that are likely to be drawn to ANOHNI’s music don’t need a dissertation on the evils of humanity. They just need to know they’re not alone in their despair.
On “Why Did You Separate Me from the Earth?” she explores these ideas of loneliness through our spiritual division from the Earth. More than anything else, human progress seems to have separated us from this idea that our individuality, our consciousness, make us separate from one another, and from the Earth. Astronauts often talk about the moment that they first see the earth from space; the moment you see the singular nature of the Earth — how can you look at that blue marble and not think of it as it is, a single organism, diverse and varied but made up of the same particles, the full spectrum of variation? “Why did you separate me from the Earth? What did you stand to gain?” she asks. Everything. The powers that be gained our docile allegiance through convenience, and got us to surrender our consciousness to the addiction of consumption. How can we be at one with ourselves when our existence is based on its plunder?
Hopelessness manifests the deep shame of what it means to be an American, to truly examine our role in tragicomedy that is human existence. As the Mother, ANOHNI doesn’t shy away from culpability; by acknowledging the singular nature of the earth, she acknowledges her own role. She does save some vitriol for the minister of Hope, Barack Obama; as much for the falsehood of said hope as for the actual atrocities his administration is responsible for.
The intensity of ANOHNI’s empathy lets us feel closer to the brown girl staring at the sky, waiting for death to rain from above, than to the bloated windbags with flag lapel pins preaching about freedom while suppressing it abroad and at home. With the family that prays for their loved one to be returned from some secret prison, being held without trial — whether they’re in Iraq or Chi-raq. With the truth tellers who are persecuted by the president who promised transparency.
ANOHNI’s voice, that singular, terrifying, beautiful voice, often sounds like cries — cries of woe, wonder, joy, and pain. Sometimes it feels like she’s trying to reach the heavens, to the Sky God of her youth, or reach the center of the earth, and the Mother she it believes it to be.
“I remember praying to God when I was six years old,” she says in a clip from Cut The World track “Future Feminism.” I was raised Catholic, and I prayed really really hard and I waited and waited to hear that summons…. I think in a funny way, a lot of my music, I’m listening for that response still.”