Is hopelessness a state of being or a state of feeling? Is it an unavoidable fact or a nihilistic world-view? On the title track of her new album Hopelessness (her first under her new name Anohni), the former Antony & the Johnsons singer laments what she perceives as the world's state of hopelessness. "How did I become a virus?" she asks over swelling synths and strings and thumping electronic beats. How did humanity come so far into strife and lose all its compassion?
Anohni does not point fingers though. On the opening track "Drone Bomb Me," she creates a strong link between herself and an innocent, unnamed civilian in a country torn by war. Breaking down the desensitisation and distance of warfare conducted through drones and layers of spin, she contrasts the passive language describing the helplessness of the drone bomb's target and the surprising directness when she almost conversationally admits, "After all, I'm partly to blame." Throughout Hopelessness, Anohni explores the way she - and by extension, everyone living in safety and privilege in the first world - through deeply ingrained power structures, is complicit in the destruction that we see around us on a daily basis.
The first single released from the record was "4 Degrees," which also functioned as the first taste of Anohni's synergy with producers Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke who are responsible for the whole record - sometimes together, sometimes apart. The topic of climate change has been a passionate one for Anohni in the past ("Another World" and the Oscar-nominated "Manta Ray"), but with Hudson Mohawke's militaristic horns and stomping beats, and Oneohtrix Point Never's layers of fizzing corrosion, the urgency of Anohni's words is that much clearer. "It's only four degrees," she sings with ironic callousness as the apocalyptic music swells around her.
Using the unnatural wallop of club music (a style to which she is no stranger) Anohni and her collaborators have pushed into bold new spaces. The tension between her high, fluttering voice and the sparkling, thumping, gaseous arrangements is palpable and adds import to her direct, often matter-of-fact lyrics. "Watch Me," which makes government surveillance sound perversely sexual, is aided by one of Hudson Mohawke's distinctively luxurious grooves, immediately commanding attention.
A stretch in the record's centre, produced entirely by Anohni and Oneohtrix Point Never pits the record's most personal moment "I Don't Love You Anymore," against the bitterly disappointed "Obama" and the tortured, creepy "Violent Men," with Oneohtrix Point Never's deceptively simple, formless soundscapes weaving subtle narrative threads from track to track.
Despite the album's title, its sound and Anohni's performance still look toward the future. She is not resigned, but passionate, frequently lifting her one-of-a-kind voice toward the soulful heights that longtime listeners will know and relish. The album concludes on an upward note with the heartfelt, tear-soaked apology of "Crisis," pounding like a resurrected heartbeat before leading into the gentle and pleading duo of the title track and the shattering closer "Marrow." As the album draws to a conclusion, Anohni suggests, bravely and eloquently despite the fear and guilt with which she is grappling, that if we are the problem, we can be the solution too.
Hopelessness is out now on CD, vinyl and digital formats. Anohni is playing four shows at the Sydney Opera House starting Friday May 27 for Vivid Sydney. Hoplessness collaborator Oneohtrix Point Never is also performing.