If you had the chance to catch Hudson Mohawke’s release from last year, Lantern, then you may have noticed that it featured the first official taste of what would be the new musical direction from Anohni. Formerly known as Antony Hegarty and recording as Antony and the Johnsons since 1998, the deeply immersive artist found herself walking down a new avenue, both sonically and lyrically, after extensive sessions with Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never. She decided to lend one of the tracks from the sessions, “Indian Steps”, to Mohawke’s album, but she would keep the rest for what would eventually become the scathing, confrontational, and utterly piercing Hopelessness.
I’ve never been the appropriate audience member to spend a lot of time with ultra-political records, but there’s a feeling of separation here from the usual stance of blatant screaming and protest. Anohni’s vocals, first and foremost, have always provided an immediate distinction from anything you could be listening to in current music, so when she sings from the perspective of a child in a war torn country begging to be chosen by one of America’s drone bombs, it’s about as engaging as the subject can possibly get. It was impossible for me not to be swept up in the album’s focus right from the start of opener “Drone Bomb Me”, as she sings “Blow my head off. Explode my crystal guts. My blood. Choose me. Let me be the one…the one that you choose tonight”. All of these words are amidst a beautiful, yet dangerous and literal explosion of beats from two of the more innovative producers in all of music.
The rest of the album does well in stacking up to the hefty promise of its opener, demonstrating many times over a true clinic in artist/producer same-page collaboration. Lyrically, she is attacking the methods of American politics and senseless, grotesque effects of war in ways very few artists would even dare to try, and she’s never had such a sonic palette as this to paint onto. Tracks such as “4 Degrees”, “Execution”, and “Crisis” stand with the aforementioned “Drone Bomb Me” as some of the most powerful singles I’ve heard in 2016 that already has a year or two worth of gems. It’s almost a weirdly timed shame that this album released during the whirlwind of surprise drops from Beyonce, James Blake, and Radiohead, because it is every bit as good (and really, better) than all of them. There’s no question that she has created the triumph of her career to this point, and easily one of the top handful of records this year so far.