While I have discussed political albums before, none have been as outspoken as this record. Being someone who is incredibly invested in politics in their personal life and would consider themselves well informed on many of the relevant issues for Americans I was very curious about this project. And as a disclosure, while I do not want to get too into my own personal beliefs, I am a registered Independent and I would consider myself liberal on most issues. That makes me a prime target for this record.
For those unaware, this is the debut album from Antony and the Johnsons lead singer, under her new name Anohni. While I did not listen to her previous work, I was impressed with what she was able to bring to this project in terms of vocal delivery. She has a strong voice and enough conviction to really sell how she feels about the topics she is discussing. Aside from Anohni, Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never were brought in as producers and co-writers. While I will get into the writing shortly, the production stood out in a very positive way here. I do enjoy synth-pop and hearing those sounds accompany the themes brought forward on Hopelessness was a unique and appreciated decision.
But it is the themes Anohni brings forward that will fuel most of the discussions around this album. It is clear that there are several things going on in the American government that Anohni is adamantly against and there is no sugar coating with how she feels. The first three tracks I would say are perfect examples of the kind of content I was hoping for on this.
The opener “Drone Bomb Me” boldly puts Anohni in the shoes of someone who is being affect by drone warfare. The imagery is direct and powerful as she sings “blow my head off/explode my crystal guts” and is essentially begging to be destroyed. This masochistic view of these topics, which is present throughout the album, is an interesting approach and definitely delivers the titular sense of hopelessness.
Next is “4 Degrees” which continues with disturbing imagery of nature being destroyed by climate change. As someone who does care deeply about this issue, the song is very upsetting but drives the point it is trying to make home in a brutally effective way. Considering the apathy many people have towards climate change, the repeated lines “it’s only 4 degrees” feel very real and very scary.
The third track “Watch Me” tackles the issue of NSA surveillance, by having Anohni look at the government spying on her in a loving way. It is a little uncomfortable and creepy but then again so is the idea of being spied on which I would say is the intended idea. Anohni acts as if the reason she must have the NSA go through all her personal information is because they care so much for her.
It is not until the following track “Execution” that my problems started to become present. While I do not disagree with the sentiment of the song, the lyrics are incredibly flawed with a lack of nuance. Anohni starts making broad conclusions that because America has the death penalty we are similar to countries like North Korea. This destroys the credibility that had been built up as Anohni just seems to be propagating rather than creating a strong argument. Also this idea that America is like these other countries is later contradicted on the closer “Marrow” which compares America as a cancer, spreading and influencing all the other countries on the planet.
This type of on-the-nose songwriting continues throughout the album on the track “Obama.” Clearly directed towards the current president, Anohni criticizes the mistakes Obama as made and the reveals the disappointment she, and many others, have felt because of his presidency. Similar to “Execution” there is no sense of subtlety here and Anoni’s vocal delivery is particularly irritating here.
While short, the electronic “Violent Men” makes the argument that people as a whole need to reject the violence that men seem to naturally bring about and move towards a feminine and compassionate approach. The poor lyrics and overdone production hurt this track incredibly.
“Crisis” especially irritated me, as it serves as a chance for Anohni to formally apologize on the behalf of America for all the terrible things that have happened. I was hoping that there would possibly be a moment where we find solutions or at least acknowledge that solutions exists, but I guess that would not fit in with the hopeless theme. Even if that is true, I still do not think it is appropriate to have someone who is largely unconnected to these issues to apologize for others.
I honestly think the best approach would to be continue to formula established by the first three tracks. Seeing someone learning to accept a blatant flaws in her society and actually embracing and loving them was disturbing, clever, and most importantly, effective. Having the record turn into someone complaining with no nuance became increasingly irritating and took me out of the record almost entirely. This is a shame too, as almost all of these issues are important to me and I do actually agree with Anohni here. But sadly, that is not enough when making a piece of art, and sadly this missed the mark. There is a problem when an album tackling this many controversial issues is this easy to analyze. I respect the ideas, just not the execution.
Best Tracks: Drone Bomb Me, 4 Degrees, Watch Me, Why Did You Separate Me From the Earth?
Worst Track: Execution