I often wonder what kind of music will be remembered as the soundtrack to the Donald Trump years. Surely it will be some incarnation of protest music, but what form will that take? Many Americans likely associate the presidency of George W. Bush with punk rock and pop-punk like Green Day’s American Idiot and the Rock Against Bush series, for example. But we live in different times now, and these previous forms of musical dissent may no longer suffice.
Many artists are writing about political topics these days, but Anohni is among the most powerful and incisive voices speaking to the roiling unrest rattling the globe. It’s difficult to think of an album more relevant to our current social and political condition than last year’s HOPELESSNESS, examining as it did the ills of capitalism, drone warfare, climate change, surveillance, and imperialism through steely electropop. The album’s monolithic electronic sound suggested unrelenting resistance, replacing more overt displays of anger and snarky dissent with a kind of chilly, clear resolve. Along with other artists over the past several years like the Knife and the Radio Dept., Anohni has lead the argument for electronic music as an ideal medium for subversion.
Even when the album arrived in May of 2016, though, many remained blissfully unaware just how pertinent it would end up being by year’s end, after events like Brexit and Trump’s election as president of the United States. After all, the album was also notable for its withering critique of Barack Obama and his failure to end the American imperialist project. But Anohni is not new to this: she has been speaking out pointedly about social and environmental justice at least since her days with Antony and the Johnsons. HOPELESSNESS sought to demonstrate just how sick and morally destitute the capitalist world has been for years, and how our current problems did not magically appear recently but have in fact been festering for decades.
Paradise, Anohni’s latest EP, continues her project of exposing and rejecting the systemic violence inflicted on innocent people by corporations and government. Like HOPELESSNESS, it was produced with the help of Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, who have lent Anohni’s solo work its icy sheen. Whereas HOPELESSNESS packaged its pointed lyrics in pristine, even catchy electropop, Paradise is a more brutal listen. On tracks like “Jesus Will Kill You”, for example, the beats sound more like war drums, the melodies are more dissonant, and Anohni’s ever-gorgeous voice is contorted with pain.
Themes of retribution and the withholding of forgiveness pervade the EP. This is not a conciliatory work: “You Are My Enemy” is sung from the perspective of a mother lamenting giving birth to a masculine evil, declaring a radical rejection of her own progeny in the name of ending violence. Indeed, Paradise is centered on motherhood, birth, and creation in general, designating the productive power of women as our only hope of salvation. “Fathers and son now compulsively prepare to commit ecocide, in a final and irreversible assault upon creation itself,” reads part of Anohni’s statement on the EP. “Only an intervention by women around the world, with their innate knowledge of interdependency, deep listening, empathy, and self-sacrifice, could possibly alter our species’ desperate course”.
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Yet the songs rebel against a type of insidious creativity as well. Even God is not let off the hook: on “Ricochet”, Anohni rails against the deity for creating such a flawed, destructive species as humankind, singing, “If this keeps going / I’m gonna curse you, my god / I’m gonna hate you, my god”. The track is one of the EP’s highlights, being both a cathartic release of the work’s energy as a whole and an immensely powerful, memorable alt-pop song in its own right.
The phrase “point of consciousness” appears several times, both in “Ricochet” and the title track, “Paradise”. Anohni seems to point to the way personal pain can push people into isolation, while simultaneously decrying the limits of individualism and pointing to the need for collective action. The latter track refers to utopia, a “world without end”, as a distant dream, a far cry from the dystopian present so chillingly illustrated by the wailing electronics. Yet a monologue concluding the somber incantation “She Doesn’t Mourn Her Loss” again invokes this other, better world, wearily asking the simple question: “How are we going to… make the world a better place to live, for all of us?”
While none of the tracks here are quite as immediate or undeniable as “Drone Bomb Me” or “4 Degrees”, Paradise is a searing and compelling indictment of our global predicament. These songs smolder and burn like never before, making for an intense and necessarily uncomfortable listening experience. With her unapologetically direct lyrics and her willingness to eviscerate any obstacle in her path, no matter how “liberal” or well-meaning, Anohni doesn’t always make for an easy or comforting listen. For that reason, hers is among the voices we need the most right now.
// Notes from the Road
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