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ANOHNI: Paradise EP Review

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ANOHNI: <i>Paradise</i> EP Review

As a transgender eco-warrior who sees smashing the patriarchy as humanity’s only hope for survival, ANOHNI must have taken Trump’s victory especially hard. Unless she saw it coming. On last spring’s Hopelessness, the artist formerly known as Antony Hegarty set her soul-squeezing alto to songs about drone warfare, government spying and the links between environmental degradation and the subjugation of women. Electronic producers Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never served as wingmen, and the result was one of the year’s finest, fiercest, most unexpected pop albums.

ANOHNI reassembles the team for Paradise, a companion EP with the same basic formula: harsh beats plus heavy subject matter. After years fronting the chamber-pop ensemble Antony and the Johnsons, the British-born, California-raised singer has finally found her lane. For as transfixing as she sounds over strings and pianos, ANOHNI is almost too human for organic instruments. She needs something to offset the emotional intensity of her vocals, and cockeyed electro-pop of HudMo and OPN does the trick. She finally comes across like a citizen of this modern world she’s so worried about.

The main difference with Paradise—also recorded before the election—is a slight shift in lyrical tone. On Hopelessness, ANOHNI got some shock value out of blasting the president (“Obama”) and singing ironically from the POVs of people begging to be obliterated (“Drone Bomb Me”), spied on (“Watch Me”), and killed by the state (“Execution”). The closest ANOHNI comes to that here is “Jesus Will Kill You,” on which she distorts her vocals but keeps her message to Christian businessmen and politicians quite clear. “What’s your legacy?” she asks over a needling Eastern flute sound and drums that boom like boots on sheet metal. “Burning fields in Iraq/burning fields in Nigeria/burning oceans/burning populations.”

That contrast of vicious agit-prop and palatable pop isn’t quite as pronounced on the other songs, which take on a more nuanced, often more personal feel. On the anxious trap jam of a title track, ANOHNI hints at some of the inner turmoil contributing to her unease: “Staring at myself, I feel giant and trapped.” On “Ricochet,” a soulful pop tune begging for a house remix, she tells God she’s not interested in reincarnation—one life is more than enough.

The icy synth-hymn “You Are My Enemy” gets at ANOHNI’s feminist worldview, which holds men culpable for destroying the planet. Those ideas carry over to “She Doesn’t Mourn Her Loss,” which presents the Earth as a mother sucked dry by ungrateful children. As acoustic guitars creep into the mix, ANOHNI’s voice quivers, and barely audible rumbling evokes crumbling ice caps. It’s a gorgeous moment, but compared to last year’s “4 Degrees,” a facetious hooray for climate change, it’s a little lukewarm. ANOHNI has never had trouble flooring us with big feelings. Her challenge now is jolting us to take action.

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