If you hated Jenny Hval’s feminist commentary noted earlier on this best of the year list, you may not enjoy ANOHNI’s contribution either. Then again, if you hated Blood Bitch because the ideas were too amorphous, then Hopelessness may be exactly the album for you. To mention one without the other would be a dismissal of intersectionality in today’s music industry, but this is not an article meant to convince you of whether this rhetoric is “right” or “wrong.” What makes this album one of the most compelling of the year is simply ANOHNI’s conviction to justice.
If you’ve not heard of ANOHNI, I already know several things about you: you are not a fan of Antony and the Johnsons, nor are you a diehard for Bjork, and you likely aren’t an Oscars aficionado, either. ANOHNI was the woman behind Antony and the Johnsons, the band she named after herself (when she went by Antony) and Marsha P. Johnson, a gay and specifically trans rights activist pioneer. Under that moniker, she has released four LPs, and also guested on Bjork’s 2007 record, Volta, as well as her heartbreaking 2015 record, Vulnicura. (Not to mention, Bjork has featured on “Fletta,” an Antony and the Johnsons’ single as well.) And, most recently, ANOHNI became the first transgendered performer nominated for an Oscar in 2016–and without hesitation from the Academy also became one of the first not invited to present their song, not that she would have anyway; in a statement explaining her decision not to attend the ceremony, she explains:
“I brought my earnings from around the world home to New York City and paid my taxes. That money was spent by the U.S. government on Guantanamo Bay, drone bombs, surveillance, capital punishment, prisons for whistleblowers, corporate subsidies and bank bailouts.
In the United States it is all about money: those who have it and those who don’t. …
America, a country that is no longer contained by physical borders, aspires only for more power and control. I want to maximize my usefulness and advocate for the preservation of biodiversity and the pursuit of human decency within my sphere of influence.”
And here is where the story of Hopelessness begins. ANOHNI specifically and effectively addressed all her concerns with American politics and not once does sexuality or gender identity ever enter the picture. Certainly, this is the work of an experienced songwriter, who would have the skills necessary to whittle her own thoughts down to a precise intended message, but this means that she omit queer and trans images. As a trans woman herself, her statement is clear: eradicate identity politics.
ANOHNI never claimed to be the new Michael Stipe, yet the biting nature of her commentary may serve as a template for future political musicians. Not one, but two tracks focus on the brutality of drones in the middle east and almost all touch in some way the indirect cost of what Americans consider “defense.” In that sense, ANOHNI took one out of Modest Mouse’s book, a band who somehow incorporated the sea into every song on We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. But ANOHNI doesn’t do it without reason, and her politics pull no punches.
Controversy defines politics, and by extension this album, though I hesitate to reduce ANOHNI to a shock jock. Like Hval, ANHONI relies on a great deal of satire and wit to balance the gravity of these world issues, for example, using the ‘daddy’ meme to respond to overreaching government surveillance, and at another point, rehashing actual condemnations that the US received from nations such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Libya on our human rights violations. And then we reach “Obama”:
“When you were elected
The world cried for joy
We thought we had empowered
The truth-telling envoy”
The instrumentation at this point has lost all control. Torn seams at the edges of Hopelessness simultaneously unravel into a haunting ballad for a man that ANOHNI does not respect, followed immediately by a track called “Violent Man.” Given the album’s pace, the final few songs after this should lead to some catharsis, but of course she doesn’t make it that simple. As much as she is a devoted atheist, her record still has its own Book of Revelations in “Marrow,” which describes the ravages of the rapture as portrayed on a woman’s body. Many themes are drawn together in this track, from capitalism to imperialism, from systematic misogyny to impending nuclear holocaust. All topics should dominate our political narrative, yet power hungry suits direct rhetoric away from .
Journalism and news media are fraying, and art may be the only way to instill hope in us yet. For a record whose title suggests the complete opposite, I feel comforted.
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