Written By: Omar Stamp
Although “Hopelessness” (2016) is a debut album released under her new name, it will become apparent to the even the most innocent listener that it represents a milestone in what has been a long musical journey. Born in Chichester, England, Anohni had by 1981 moved with her family to San Francisco, California, at an age simultaneously raw and conscious enough to absorb the full kaleidoscope of British synth, Pop, and Art Pop that would sculpt her musical tastes. Influenced most by the likes of fellow Brits Kate Bush, Marc Almond, and the award-winning Boy George (who personally praised “Hopelessness” on Twitter), her “B side” of artistic inspiration is All-American, consisting of legendary R&B and Jazz vocalists such as Donny Hathaway, Nina Simone, and the great Otis Redding. In 1990, young Anohni moved to Manhattan to attend the Experimental Theater annex of NYU, where she founded the performance collective Blacklips. It was over the course of the next few years that she no doubt fully meshed her bright west coast flavor with the more noir textures of New York, both directing and performing throughout the city’s most intimate venues. In 1998, her loosely associated group of fellow artists officially first performed as Antony and the Johnsons.
As aforementioned, “Hopelessness” is as much a debut album (birth), as it is a eulogy (death) of the artist’s previously burdened sense of self, and formerly despondent world view. The album title itself is an expression of her having “grown tired of grieving for humanity”, and of “not being entirely honest by pretending that I am not a part of the problem”. Interestingly enough, “Anohni” is the name she used only in her personal life for years. This can be heard consistently throughout the track list, which holds nothing back in its shamelessly self-referential and at times almost pleading tone. I found the lyrics intentionally filled with as much double entente’s, as with straight forward shock value lines, to the extent where I almost had to pause and ponder their true meaning. This leads me to believe that many of the songs were written much earlier in her life as a closeted transgender woman, and unrecorded until now.
“Why did you separate….me from the Earth?/ I don’t want your future, I’ll be born before you’re born.”
My Interpretation: “Why was I taken out of the ground? I’ll be back in it before you…” (See what I mean!?)
While Anohni’s vocal range or perhaps vocal training isn’t the best, she does often find a harmonic sweet spot in Bjork like fashion (no auto-tune here!). Sonically, “Hopelessness” by her own description an “Electronic album with sharp teeth”, which I suspect was a reference to both its unpredictable lyrics, and overall tempo. The quality of production and mixing on this album is without a doubt top notch, my only quip as an electronic music enthusiast, and self-proclaimed good dancer is the lack of any real rhythm on “Hopelessness”. Don’t get me wrong, I have my personal track list of arhythmical “alone in the dark” mixes and albums by my favorite artists, but I do feel that Anohni left untouched a certain type of expressiveness, or perhaps even a fever pitch of emotion with just one “four on the floor” (house/techno/edm) track. With that being said though, I also recognize and respect every piece of music for what it wants to be, and as with most of her career, this album wanted to be experimental. I’m not big on numerical rating systems, but I would say that this album is “good”, and look forward to Anohni’s recently announced future project.
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