With galloping drums and an explosive chorus, Anohni’s “4 Degrees” almost sounds as though it came out of the same mass empowerment industry that minted hits like Demi Lovato’s “Confident” and Sia’s “Chandelier.” The words of the hook—“I wanna burn the sky, I wanna burn the breeze”—also seem, at first, like the sort of uplifting nonsense Katy Perry might sing.
But the song’s lyrics wishing mass death upon the animals of the earth—rhinos, dogs, fish, “all those lemurs and all those tiny creatures”—probably disqualify the song from rotation on Z100 or KIIS FM.
Cheering for extinction is part of the wicked conceit that Anohni, best known for fronting the beloved indie act Antony and the Johnsons under her previous name Antony Hegarty, executes across the first few songs of her bold new album Hopelessness. She asks: What if Western society embraced, rather than ignored, the consequences of its comforts? What if the Top 40 openly rooted for climate change? Drone bombing? Capital punishment? Surveillance? These questions aren’t in the service of satire, per se. They are pointing out the uncomfortable obvious: If you support the system, you support what the system does.
You could assemble a book of surrealist poetry out of music critics’ many attempts to describe Anohni’s singular voice over nearly two decades. It’s best just to listen and perform your own Madlib, if you’d like. She can simultaneously communicate despair and hope, or vulnerability and strength, and her lyrics are usually about facing the unfaceable. In the past, delicate classical arrangements or velvety throwback disco has backed her, but for Hopelessness, she approaches blunt political issues with the blunt tools of electronic pop and noise created by Hudson Mohawke (a Kanye West collaborator) and Daniel Lopatin (behind the experimental act Oneohtrix Point Never).