I always felt there was something a bit emperor’s new clothes about Antony and the Johnsons.
There was obvious merit in the music, but I could never quite understand why the likes of Lou Reed were so enamoured.
Then came 4 Degrees and even this old philistine had to sit up and take notice.
Anohni’s debut single, released to coincide with last December’s Climate Conference, was an extraordinary mix of stabbing strings, drum loops and coal-black lyrics.
It’s my pleasure to report that Hopelessness firmly delivers on that promise.
With song titles like Drone Bomb Me, An Execution, Crisis and Violent Men, it’s clear this is not an album to file under easy listening.
Angry, uncompromising, savage and smart, it’s also thrillingly modern, the music given added muscle thanks to a collaboration with US electronics whizz Oneohtrix Point Never and Scottish producer/composer Hudson Mohawke.
Opener Drone Bomb Me, the second single from the album, sets the tone for what’s to come.
Described by Anohni as the dream of a young Afghan girl, whose parents have been killed in an unmanned bomb strike, it’s plangent chords evoke the mood of devastation and despair.
As the girl yearns to join her family in death, brutal descriptions of her hoped for demise are conveyed with soaring soulful vocals.
“Blow me from the mountains and into the sea,” the girl entreats. “Blow me from the side of the mountain/blow my head off/Explode my crystal guts.”
4 Degrees is up next, the first of a quartet of songs which address the issue of ecocide in a dazzling array of styles.
A rapier to the heart of climate change denial, 4 Degrees, is made all the more powerful by being written from the point of view of the polluter.
“I wanna see this world, I wanna see it boil,” the protagonist cries.
“I wanna see the fish go belly up in the sea/And all those lemurs and all those tiny creatures/I wanna see them burn.”
Mankind’s appetite for destruction is also tackled with contrasting approaches on Why Did You Separate Me From The Earth, Hopelessness and Marrow.
The anger is ever present, but often packaged in beguiling, seductively sweet melodies and rhythms.
Anohni picks her targets and attacks with real verve, the military-industrial complex coming under fire on tracks like Watch Me and Crisis.
Big Brother looms large on Watch Me, a sly attack on covert surveillance in the light of the Edward Snowden revelations.
Backed by washes of electronica Anohni sarcastically praises a self-appointed father figure who’s “Always watching me/Protecting me from evil/protecting me from terrorism”.
Crisis pointedly questions whether Western military strikes feed a desire for revenge.
“If I killed you father with a drone bomb/ How would you feel?”
The correlation is firmly established by the end of the song: “Now you’re cutting heads off innocent people on TV”.
Obama puts the current incumbent of the White House in the spotlight and the sense of disappointment is palpable.
Sounding like some weird futurist gospel preacher, Anohni tells of a world crying for joy at Obama’s election, only to witness him ‘punishing the whistleblowers’ – a clear reference to WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning.
In a dark, treated delivery Anohni delivers her damning verdict on Obama’s administration “Do you recognise the yellow staring back at you?”
The president’s name is then repeatedly endlessly like a mantra or call to prayer against backdrop of static and electronic clatter.
Not a song you’d expect to hear on the Oval Office turntable any time soon.
Countries who continue to apply the death penalty are named and shamed on Execution, caustically referred to as an ‘American dream’.
All this virulent polemic could have become wearing, but for the breadth of the musical palette that underpins it.
Diverse, distinctive and often strangely beautiful, it’s the protest song reinvented as experimental dance anthem.
Violent Men is a case in point. Opening with a twisted melody of backwards tape loops, it gives way to Far Eastern influences, with Balinese-style strings and bells chiming.
The provocative nature of the album has been compared to MIA‘s shock tactics and there’s some truth in that.
Anohni certainly pulls no punches, even spinning Le Monde’s post 9/11 gesture of solidarity with America “We Are All Americans” into a waspish insult during Marrow‘s furious invective against corporate greed.
But there’s a also a touch of Bjork‘s Debut about the way she’s been freed from the constraints of the band environment to explore a whole new landscape of sound.
By showing such willingness to experiment, Anohni has found an outlet for her anger and redefined the spirit of protest for a whole new generation. Not Bad for a first solo effort.
• Anohni is due to play The Barbican, London on 7 and 8 July this year.
Naomi Campbell stars in the video for Drone Bomb Me, directed by Nabil.