Friday, May 20th, 2016

Anohni – Drone Bomb Me

Her first appearance since 2012.


Hannah Jocelyn: Between her dramatic press tour for Hopelessness and her long-winded, intense Facebook posts, Anohni is clearly not one for small gestures. This lack of subtlety has permeated her music from the beginning, and it can be effective, even powerful, on songs like “Hope There’s Someone” and recent single “4 Degrees.” Other times, though, she can lean toward overwrought theatrics, shock value, and, on the weaker parts of Hopelessness, unconvincing conjecture. Naturally, a hip-hop song about an nine-year-old Afghan’s death wish may sound like a red flag for those other times. That “Drone Bomb Me” somehow manages to hold together is a testament to both Anohni’s stunning performance and Hudson Mohawke’s bombastic production. As if to confirm the pop-as-trojan-horse thesis of the accompanying album, the horn blasts seem to deliberately mimic the flow of “Jumpman”, and Anonhi’s “after all” ad-lib sounds surprisingly playful considering the next line is a tragic cry of “I’m partly to blame!” The sudden fade out is the one moment in her entire career where more drama would be an improvement– it’s an underwhelming ending to an otherwise fascinating song.

Alfred Soto: Her tremulous sobs and familiar weltschmerz have rarely cohered into music I could stand for longer than it took to crush my smartphone, and one of those rarities is a Hercules & Love Affair collaboration, so I was prepared to recoil. Yet for the first time since 2008, Anohni is compelling: frightened and frightening. Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never’s programmed beats reflect the shifting tectonics of a planet that may not exist before long. “Drone Bomb Me” commingles the erotic and the geopolitical in fascinating and chilling ways. “Blow me from the mountains/And into the sea” centers the listener in a region where such destruction at the hands of the United States is commonplace. Thanatos, meet Eros.

Natasha Genet Avery: Living in Silicon Valley, the drones I encounter deliver groceries and take aerial photos of extreme sports. Clean and mechanical, or even cute and feminized, they’re detached from the violence they inflict. With Anohni’s first wail, delivered against a moment of quiet, she shatters that image as her persona confidently addresses the U.S government with “drone bomb me/blow me from the mountains and into the sea,” one of the most alarming opening lines I’ve heard this year. She blends the language of sacrifice, romance, surveillance, and religion in disturbing new ways, as her persona asks to be “chosen,” desired, eliminated. Anohni’s haunting vocals float over a simple synth progression, and the track is understated and delicate, a striking contrast to the gory reality of “crystal guts” splayed across the ground after a drone strike. Anohni transports her listener to a reality they ignore and implicates them in its tragedy– an act that is uncomfortable and acutely necessary.

Taylor Alatorre: Reducing Middle Eastern lives to inert bodies that exist to be haplessly torn apart by Western military might: strike one. Romanticizing, even if ironically, the “crystal guts” and “purple” released in the explosion: strike two. Casting your English-American self as a nine-year-old Afghani girl, roleplaying her death in love song format, then trying to strengthen your moral position by meekly admitting that you’re “partly to blame”: strike three. I’m not even sure if all these critiques are valid, but if a protest song has me thinking more about the flaws in its message than the failings of our system, something is wrong.

Juana Giaimo: “Dromb Bomb Me” is too delicate and romantic to reflect the desperation, horror and emotional chaos of the lyrics’ theme.

Jessica Doyle: Lying on my back with my eyes shut because this seems to be better felt than heard, or maybe absorbed, through the pores of the skin; rage that sounds like yearning; surrender that barely hides command; drama that disguises a careful control. This track is either needling satire or unrestrained emotion and either way it’s in the very worst of taste, which is to say artistic or shocking or some other word that does nothing save flatter the person who chose it. I feel like a fraud. I feel like nothing I have felt is big enough for these waves of sound. At some point the word camp is supposed to come up. Or melodramatic, maybe. Words that assign the speaker some sort of remove from the emotions provoke, a promise of rational distance, of heads kept. My head hurts, listening. I’m open, oozing.

Cassy Gress: Anohni says this is about a young Afghani girl whose family has been blown up and she wants to be blown up too. From that perspective, this is horrifying, gross, and feels exploitative. You could also just hear “drone bomb me” as an awkward metaphor for the strength of attraction, but it feels crass that way too.

Claire Biddles: Anohni’s talent is subversion through familiar song form. One of my favorite of her songs is “Fistful of Love,” recorded when she was still performing under the Antony and the Johnsons moniker. “Fistful of Love” is a ballad — a traditional, almost musically corny love song about what? Domestic violence or consensual masochism? I’ve been listening to the song for ten years and I still don’t know. Maybe it’s both. But what happens when a (consensually?) violent lover is switched for a nation, a state, an ideology? Who is complicit? who is (forced to be) submissive? In “Drone Bomb Me,” the love song tradition is still present, but this time it’s in a club, sonically closer to “Blind” (my other favourite Anohni song), the stone-cold disco classic recorded with Hercules and Love Affair. Anohni adopts the voice and language of longing from a thousand sad disco songs — ‘Choose me tonight /let me be the one that you choose tonight’ — in an the absurd, disturbing, deeply sad seduction of death. Like in “Fistful of Love,” the language of (personal or universal) terror and the language of submissive sexuality are entangled, but in “Drone Bomb Me” the context of the song is reported on news tickers and 24-hour television broadcasts, not hidden in the private, abstract bedroom of two lovers. In this case there’s no question about the consent of the violence.

Reader average: [5.87] (8 votes)

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9 Responses to “Anohni – Drone Bomb Me”

  1. Controversy!

    By the way, every protest song I’ve liked makes me think of the flaw in its message. The singer and I are in this dance of embarrassment.

  2. honestly, this sounded so completely alien from the way any 9-year-old girl would talk, let alone a grieving and angry one, that I basically discarded Anohni’s description as a fig leaf/red herring/what have you and went on reader response. Which may be my own kind of arrogance. If you approach it from “Does the song do what the creator says it’s supposed to do?” the [1]s make much more sense.

  3. It pained me to write that blurb, because I don’t want to seem like I’m shitting on Anohni’s beliefs or what she represents in a broader sense. And to be sure, protest songs should not have to be written in the style of Guardian thinkpieces or Propagandhi lyrics. I just don’t think Hopelessness has been looked at critically enough in the press, considering the unsubtle ways in which it deals with such weighty, globe-spanning issues. Even Kendrick, in all his critically lauded glory, caught some flak for “The Blacker the Berry.” If large swaths of people listen to this and don’t hear a failed protest song, that makes me feel a little better about where our politics is heading, but it doesn’t change my gut feeling that some crucial line has been crossed here.

    I wrote about her song “Obama” as part of my application and I was even harsher towards it, but at least this has the virtue of being an actual SONG I could imagine someone choosing to listen to.

  4. yeah – this was one that I had such a strong repulsed reaction to that I went googling “ok so did anyone else like this? … pretty much everyone else liked this … ” and then decided it would be better to throw my 1 out there even if it was the only low score it got (and it almost was, high-five Taylor)

    I don’t disagree with the necessity of protest songs/art/media about drone bombs, just with this one. :)

  5. I had no idea that Anohni was specifically adopting the voice of an Afghani girl for this (and hearing that makes me squirm a little bit) but it was interesting to find that out and to see the differing reactions in the blurbs because of it, and what Jessica says about the artist’s intention/audience’s interpretation

  6. y’all, I just looked at a map. How the hell would any hypothetical resident of Afghanistan, 9 years old or not, talk about being “blown… into the sea”? Afghanistan is landlocked.

    I’m going to stick with my original interpretation, that the song is of a resident of a Western country feeling alienated and longing for acceptance, even if the acceptance means death (my first thoughts for the blurb involved both Saint Sebastian and Angels in America). Otherwise the next time I play “Drone Bomb Me” I’m just going to start laughing, and I’d rather keep the feeling I was having when I wrote my blurb last night.

  7. Yes totally Jessica – I generally believe the listener/audience/etc has the say on the meaning of the song (emotions are truth!) but maybe this is different for protest songs? But I (kind of selfishly) still want to keep my interpretation.

  8. I don’t want to parse lyrics too carefully when the vocal and arrangement carry, to my ears, most of the weight, but I interpret the line to mean the explosion is that powerful.

  9. Alfred, the “dance of embarrassment” is so apt!
    I also wasn’t aware that Anohni was roleplaying a child, which makes the romantic/sexual language stranger/ickier…