Anohni’s eco agenda
“Hopelessness” is a powerful piece of work, but Anohni’s interest in climate change and ecology goes back some time
That it’s taken me a few weeks to get around to listening to “Hopelessness” from Anohni tells its own story about the attention economy and the finite currency of time around my way. Leaving surprise album drops by bold print names aside, a crazy amount of new music comes this way every day of the week and there are times when stuff just falls through the cracks when it’s not intended for a review or an interview or a feature. Yesterday’s post about album release strategies in 2016 didn’t touch on what happens when the album is actually released and the job of work getting people to listen to what you’ve slaved over. That’s a whole different kettle of fish. Haddock maybe. Or pollock perhaps.
But for the last few days, “Hopelessness” has been working its way onto the speakers again and again and again. The work of the artist formerly known as Antony & The Johnsons, it’s a heartbreaking, beautiful work, a record where themes around climate change come to the fore against next-level musical machinations from Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never.
It’s when Anohni sings that you really swoon and sway to what’s going on here. This was always a voice to be reckoned with, but there’s a confidence and a comfort in place now, as if she has thrown off some shackles or cloaks which prevented her at truly being herself. What used to be something to admire and acclaim has now become this magnificently warm, emotional and powerful instrument to draw you closer.
What Anohni is testifying about always needs to taken notice of. There’s anger and ferocity, bite and bitterness, passion and fever colouring the lyrics about environmental destruction, climate change, global surveillance, drone strikes, American prisoners on Death Row, torture in Guantánamo and a plethora of other protest themes. Any of us who’ve ever bemoaned the lack of a serious questing conscience in today’s pop world can consider ourselves rebuked by the time “Hopelessness” comes to an end.
Of course, “Hopelessness” is not some sudden road-to-Damascus conversion for Anohni. She has always been someone who has thought long and hard about these issues. It reminded me of quotes from an interview I did with Antony back in 2008 around the time of the release of the “The Crying Light” album. Aside from discussing the Donegal family roots, there was also a lengthy exchange about climate change and nature, which is well worth re-visiting in the context of the new album. Danny Healy-Rae, for one, might take notice.
“This album is more about my relationship with the world around me and seeks to remove this wall of alienation which was put on me as a child when I was seperated from the natural world. I was raised as a Catholic so you’re led to believe that you have a soul which seperates you from the rest of the world and you have a destiny which will lead you to heaven or purgatory after you slog through your life and die. It reinforces this notion that human beings are so different from the rest of the natural world.
“As I’ve got older and more confident, it has become easier for me to set my own thinking and feel more comfortable about who and what I am. My body is made of the same stuff as the rest of the world, the same water and carbon and minerals and as dependant on the earth and its environment. I can’t take a step or a make a move without that. It seems obvious, but like so many other people, I was raised to believe that nature was something you visited on the weekend or that we allowed into our houses in the shape of a potted plant. We believed that our destiny was totally separate to the destiny of the planet.
“Now, we’re at a point where we can see ecology collapsing and how our future is related to everything around us. So how do we change all that? I really don’t know. My focus is on myself as an artist and I’m trying to grow and confront these things within myself and grappling with my relationship with ecology and especially the negative impact I have on the environment.
“But I now have a much healthier relationship with the world around me than I was taught to have when I was growing up. It’s frightening to realise that it’s a much more dependant relationship than we thought we had. Ecology sustains us. We never talk about it in those terms because we still talk about as a holiday camp.”