‘Hopelessness’ Reviewed: ANOHNI Makes Protest Pop Music About Drones and Global Climate Change
ANOHNI, formerly known as Antony Hegarty of the chamber pop group Antony & The Johnsons, fuses elements of dance floor-ready pop with conventions of protest music on Hopelessness, her debut album under her new moniker. With help from avant-electronica producers Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke, she presents goosebumps-inducing protest music for an era marked by drone bomb strikes and global climate change.
Hopelessness as a whole picks up where previous songs of dissent left off. ANOHNI employs Bob Dylan's lyrical stylings as demonstrated on his 1963 ballad "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" and adopts the dancing-while-marching vibe of John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band's 1969 rally chant "Give Peace a Chance." Vocally, she channels Nina Simone's mournful rendition of Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit."
You might remember when Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke discussed politics and music in an interview with fellow environmental activist and Guardian columnist George Monbiot last Fall, just before debuting two new politically charged songs at the Pathway to Paris concert held in conjunction with the United Nations climate change conference in December. In the interview that was published by French magazine Telerama, he said: "In the '60s, you could write songs that were like calls to arms, and it would work. ... It's much harder to do that now."
Yorke has written his fair share of songs calling out the global climate change crisis, including the entirety of his 2006 solo album The Eraser, yet he insisted in that interview: "If I was going to write a protest song about climate change in 2015, it would be shit. It's not like one song or one piece of art or one book is going to change someone's mind."
Mere weeks later, ANOHNI shared "4 Degrees," the first single off Hopelessness and the first song released under the singer's new moniker. The driving electronica track seems like the perfect response to Yorke's suggestion that the protest song as a call to arms might be dead.
"4 Degrees" doesn't outwardly condemn corporate polluters or pro-fracking politicians; the song doesn't advise listeners to boycott anything or vote for anyone. Instead, the singer chooses to revel in the horror of total environmental destruction to the point of ecocide, and invites the listener to simply look the reality of global climate change in the eye.
The song cites recent studies that suggest the planet's temperature is on track to rise 4 degrees by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emissions from human activity continue at their current rate; that increase of global temperature will lead to mass extinction of various species.
On "4 Degrees," ANOHNI enumerates these statistics with her deep soulful voice, and lets the shock value do the work. If lyrics like "I want to hear the dogs crying for water/I want to see the fish go belly-up in the sea" don't inspire (or scare) listeners into at least asking a friend about the significance of the repeated line "it's only 4 degrees," then maybe all hope for the planet is really lost.
The entire album follows similarly, each song addressing a different social injustice with the bluntness of Rage Against the Machine's most poignant moments presented in a dreamy electro-pop style similar to FKA Twigs. Each track is simultaneously a call to arms via understanding and a call to the dancefloor.
She calls out President Barack Obama for letting his supporters down after getting elected to the White House on "Obama," reveals the failures of the so-called American Dream and condemns the American legal system's continued use of the death penalty on "Execution," details the innate creepiness of Big Brother and surveillance culture on "Watch Me" and sings the stories of people devastated by America's frequent use of drone bomb strikes.
Famous anarchist and workers' rights activist Emma Goldman once said something like "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution," and Hopelessness seems to embody the idea that music has an importance place in contemporary social justice movements. Give the whole album a listen for yourself here.