This is the year of Anohni. In February, she was the first transgender performer to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, for "Manta Ray," from the environmental-justice film Racing Extinction . However, Anohni did not attend the Oscars ceremony because she wasn't invited to perform the song, saying that the omission gave her "a sting of shame that reminded me of America's earliest affirmations of my inadequacy as a transperson." Her new record, Hopelessness , out today, is the first she's released under her own name as a solo artist — previous recordings were with her band, Antony and the Johnsons.
I've been transfixed by Anohni since I first heard her in 2005. Her soulful tremor turned pain into something transcendent and opened my teenage ears to the multitudes that a single voice could contain. In Hopelessness , Anohni's voice is louder than it's ever been, at a time when it's never been needed more. It continues the environmental concerns that have been present throughout her work, but sonically it is a departure.
Set to swarming synths, deep bass, flickering percussion, and regal brass courtesy of producers Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never (a.k.a. Daniel Lopatin), Hopelessness finds Anohni confronting every darkness facing the world right now, and its inevitable conclusion: environmental collapse. The track list may look a little like a checklist, with song titles like "Execution" and "Violent Men," but Anohni imbues every issue with disarming personal resonance and investigations of her own complicity within them. On "4 Degrees," a postindustrial sibling to Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love," Anohni shrugs as the planet's temperature rises, evoking both climate-change skeptics, and the way even the most conscious person can downplay our responsibility for global-warming chaos.
Her ability to merge the personal and political, and to consider her role in the planet's destruction without being self-aggrandizing, feels rare and unparalleled. Hopelessness is one of the most bracing, fearless albums of 2016: a Trojan horse in the middle of the dance floor, challenging you to stand still while the world ends. I called Anohni at home in New York the day after she returned from Berlin, where she'd been prepping an upcoming art show and career retrospective.
Laura Snapes: You've been talking about the ideas that feed into Hopelessness for years now. How did they come to form a single album?
Anohni: Originally, I had been collaborating with Dan Lopatin on a more soundtrack-y record that was going to use other songs I had written in more conventional ways. But when Hudson stepped in, his tracks had such a tremendous sense of galvanizing energy about them that it reawakened my desire to make very political dance songs. It's something that I tried before a few years ago with a different producer but hadn't succeeded at. Hudson sent me six tracks, and I recorded all of them almost immediately. "4 Degrees" and "Drone Bomb Me" are Hudson's tracks. They pushed me off into a higher gear. Up until that point, I'd written a song called "Hopelessness" with Dan, and "I Don't Love You Anymore." It was a more melancholic approach, and then when the real beats started to kick in, I was off to the races.
LS: The record casts a wide topical net, dealing with war, the environment, feminism, Obama, the NSA — this huge range of issues. How did you manage that amount of information in the songwriting?
A: All these issues swell around us like a constellation. They amplify and exacerbate one another. Ecocide and eco-collapse, I think that's the climax of all of these issues. Neo-liberal capitalism* and trickle-up economics, multinational corporate sovereignty — all these things insidiously collaborate to realize the perfect storm of conditions that usher in ecocide.