For a long time, I’ve played around with viewing the human race as a plague. That sounds like a downer, yes, but that’s also the point.
Thinking about things like climate change and how we (Americans) are killing each other locally and abroad, my mind races to something like cancer attacking a body, that we little people as an individual are cute and cuddly and “safe” but—as a unit of billions—we are a monster that is tearing the Earth apart. It’s a hopeless point of view because little old me, one in a literal billion, can only do so much to get people to think about being kind to the planet. As we are a collection of a bunch of tiny, different, unique, living things, so is the planet.
This view of Human As Plague invades your thoughts while listening to ANOHNI’s complicated and fantastic album HOPELESSNESS. It’s an album dedicated to our destruction, wrapped up in productions by contemporary greats Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke. There is a slick, futuristic sound to HOPELESSNESS, that you’re listening to alien pop from the outside looking in, but the wonderful sonic textures of the album are just a small part of why the album is required listening.
With only lead singles “4 Degrees” and “Drone Bomb Me” as entry points, a casual listener might expect big, dance breaks for politicos. That is hinted at but after those songs—which are the first and second songs on the album—ANOHNI unpacks things that are a bit more complicated. “4 Degrees” and “Drone Bomb Me” are her diving into a pool of ideological shit: the rest of the album is the swim with the issues.
Take a song like “Execution”: it focuses on the American Dream as execution, that we all deserve the right to kill. Her way of handling the idea is that of a drug addict in love with murder, something we share with communists and terrorists from North Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria. To be American is to constantly carry around a machete, to destroy resources and people.
The haunted house blur “Obama” has a similar American monstering but from the point of view that Obama is the metaphor for us all: someone so well intentioned and inspired but flawed. She shuts him out for forgetting the good fight, for saying he is a savior but not speaking to truth, to the multi-tiered struggle of freedom and peace. She conjures the image of Chelsea Manning specifically in the song (“Punishing the whistlebowers”) and brings in one of the most important aspects of the album: queerness.
Queerness is the forgotten angle to ANOHNI’s political fight as she doesn’t directly speak to her transgender identity, as an “other.” But she doesn’t have to: in inspecting the queerness of the record, which you see by bringing in jumbly words like “chemotherapy” and “Guantanamo,” an alien quality is revealed. The album becomes a science fiction record mapping a dystopia that is real life. She isn’t forecasting a world of bombs and destruction from aliens: she is saying we are the aliens and that the Earth is the victim, the innocent bystander of our destructive ways.
“Watch Me” on the outside feels to be about someone hoping to connect with the NSA, the government spies who are always watching. However, the song plays with a classic queer concept: daddy issues, casting the cyber monster into a mecha-father figure that we just want to accept us for who we are. “Daddy!” she cries, “I know you love me because you’re always watching me.” She tries to get this figure to look at her because she is evil, a terrorist, a queer child molestor. She craves to be acknowledged for being herself by this Techno Papa but, like all anti-queer dads, he’ll never do that. He’ll only watch with complicit disapproval.
Produced as a lost track from R Plus Seven, “Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth?” takes the alien direct. “I don’t want your future,” she says. “I’ll never return.” She sings from the point of view of queer outsider, as alien blasted from home, to travel their attacking sideshow. The flip of this is to see this said to peers, pointing at them, asking why they—We.—disconnected us from the planet by killing it. “What did you have to gain?” she asks, leaving a feeling that this song is being sung from space, looking down on a crumbling planet, from one astronaut to the other as they lament global meltdown.
“Crisis” follows this logic and is about the joy in Americanized violence set in the sci-fi future of now. “If I killed your mother with a drone bomb, how would you feel?” she asks. “Father, how would you feel if I killed your children with a drone bomb? How would you feel?” She’s assumes an apologetic lull that builds into an emotional wreck, as she humanizes eco-horrors of a dying earth actualized as people. She brings up very interesting questions related to the Human As Plague. What if each of us is a little army? What if we attacked each other like countries? What if drone bombing each other is the next shooting each other? What if what we are doing in Guantanomo is what we are doing to the Earth? Despite her cries of apology, she never quite believes herself and we’re left with a song that is “Love In This Club” about interstellar politics.
Title track “Hopelessness” turns the queer body into a virus and serves as the thesis for the album, tackling the narrative of Human As Plague most literally. The song is a swollen tangle of so many disconnected songs that crash around her, unsure where to go because so many infrastructures are collapsing. “I don’t care about me,” she says. “I feel the animals in the trees. They got nowhere to go,” she laments. “I don’t give a shit about you: we blew it all away.” She occupies a Gaia position but also her most honest, trans-mama self: she just wants to be human and normal but, as we see in North Carolina and elsewhere, you aren’t human if you are queer. You are a virus that is infiltrating society, infecting thoughts. What else is there to do but wander around the hopelessness and wonder how you became the plague when we are all a plague?
By the devastating close, “Marrow” takes you beyond hopelessness. “We are all American now,” she sings, equalizing all international others—from Africa to Brazil, Thailand to India—by saying we must all feast on the bones of the planet as we’re all in this together in the worst way possible. It becomes a roll call of people, of the ones in billions, that we are all this same alien monster attacking the Earth—and we’re all of the same more, more, more philosophy, a uniquely American consumerist beast, too proud to unite and too stupid to stop digging for more. “Burn her hands,” ANOHNI relinquishes. “Boil her skin.” Torture the bitch, she implies. Let’s finish her off the American way.
HOPELESSNESS is not light listening. It’s savage, dedicated to the planet from within the center, mid-gnaw. It’s profound and fascinating how she casts herself from the point of view of an extraterrestrial living beyond, so separated from the Earth that we couldn’t have possibly been born of it. There are so many parts of the album that are involved with the afterlife, from admitting that we as humans are already dead to reflecting on an apocalypse now.
You will find something new every time you listen to this album. It’s dense and wordy, yes, but can be appreciated purely for sounding good and weird. But, if you take a moment to sit with her and listen to her, the album opens up to something so much more than a smart collaboration between 0PN and HudMo. There is such a political weight fused with straightforward good grooves and frank bizarreness that you cannot pull yourselves from it. HOPELESSNESS arcs from the ground (“Drone Bomb Me”) ending with a blast off to another planet to kill (“Marrow”).
HOPELESSNESS is a reminder that the art form of the album is still important, that songs playing together toward a goal are a type of weapon. Like good science fiction, it makes you question everything—and divorces you from yourself.