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Ricardo Babooshka

Posts: 155 Member Since: 20 October, 2015

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Jun 22 16 11:17 AM

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In July 2014, the artist Kembra Pfhaler (close friend and member of the Future Feminism collective) interviewed ANOHNI (still Antony to us at that moment) and, accidentally, let slip that she was looking forward to “her new and very different electronic record”. The silence that followed afterwards made us imagine the face that ANOHNI, a total perfectionist, must have made at Kembra. 

Said interview was broadcasted from a humble radio station in Brooklyn, so none of it transcended. But it served to fill the hearts of her most ardent fans up with nervousness and anticipation. 

In February 2015, it was announced that the album would be called HOPELESSNESS and that it would be an “electronic record with some sharp teeth”. It would be co-produced by Hudson Mohawke, Oneohtrix Point Never and the artist herself and, surprise, her name for this project would be ANOHNI. 

This change of name aims at avoiding a masculine name in order to reflect and honor the transgender nature of the artist. ANOHNI has always been transgender and she has openly spoken about it. In fact, transgenderism is the central theme of her first masterpiece I Am a Bird Now. I explain this because during the last year the press has tirelessly written headlines like “Her first album as a woman” or “Her recent transition from man to woman”. You must know that ANOHNI has not recently transitioned. She defines herself as transgender and all this time and in all of her albums she’s been the same “amount of woman”, which is a lot. She has just chosen to made public a name she has been using in her private life for a while now. The misunderstanding must come as well from the fact that only now has the press started to use feminine pronouns and adjectives on her, when they should have all this time. 

Anyway, either it has been an enormous and accurate coincidence or it is inevitable to think that this change aims as well to put some distance between her classicist project with Antony and the Johnsons and her new sound and renewed intentions. 

Last year, in an interview with Pitchfork ANOHNI declared: “I don’t care about my personal life anymore in terms of self-expression. All I care about is trying to express reality, which is a really different modus operandi for a pop musician”. Due to this, the lyrics on HOPELESSNESS are straightforward and harsh, and they expose as clear as possible the problems that ANOHNI sees in the present world. She even examines her own complicity in said problems (ANOHNI has already spoken about the world that surrounds her on her songs with the Johnsons, but always in a more calm and poetic tone). 

In HOPELESSNESS the instrumentation and the voice are always at the service of the message. We are in the presence of a protest song album in 2016. The most personal protest song you have ever heard. 

Let’s continue with the account of events. In December 2015 and at coinciding with the Climate Summit in Paris, the first song of HOPELESSNESS, 4 Degrees, was released. After having listened to it live in an orchestral version last summer, at last we found out how ANOHNI was going to sound like (about 4 Degrees I wrote a long article that you can find here

Finally, in March 2016 we listened to Drone Bomb Me, first single and official video of the album, and it was unveiled that HOPELESSNESS would be released on May the 6th. (You can read more about Drone Bomb Me here and here). 

It has been almost two (long) years since we first knew about the project, and more than a year since it was officially announced. ANOHNI is a perfectionist by nature (similar waiting periods preceded the releases of I Am a Bird Now and The Crying Light) and we knew we were going to get a project meticulously crafted. HOPELESSNESS has exceeded all my expectations, and I can undoubtedly affirm that we are before the (at least) third masterpiece that the artist has given us, along with I Am a Bird Now and The Crying Light. I would also add to the list Cut the World and Turning, her live albums, because of the period they document, the instrumentation and, especially, the use of her voice. Her self-titled album and Swanlights both are of exceptional quality, but in my opinion the finish isn’t as flawless as the other albums. 

Despite the electronics and the change of the message in content and form, ANOHNI is still the soul and heart of the project, and we can find resonances and echoes with other songs of her repertoire. Her voice is the center of the album, and as we were able to verify in Cut the World, it gets better with time. She sings better now, with more taste and restraint. 

The two first songs on HOPELESSNESS, Drone Bombe Me and 4 Degrees, are the more “HudMo” and more bombastic of the lot. Then the album adopts a more subtle tone. With the next two tracks, Watch Me and Execution, they accurately symbolize the spirit of the album. They are sensual, suggesting and upbeat songs, with an apparent double entendre that at the end it is not such thing. She traps us in them like a spider traps her prey in her web, and later she sink her fangs into us in the form of an atrocious message. The Trojan horse she mentioned during interviews. Watch Me is the sister of Fistful of Love, taking the masochist relationship to the next level (“and I know it’s out of love”) when it isn’t a physical man the source of the abuse, but the Big Brother, the patriarchal state. Execution (“It’s an American dream”) starts with an upbeat keyboard melody only to be sung afterwards from the point of view of a prisoner condemned to death row penalty. It has a brutal vocal performance, very soul, very Otis Redding. The lyric “If Europe takes it away, inject me with something else” is simply one of the best in the album. 

The next three tracks are co-written with Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) and the album makes a turn toward more introspective and calm fields. ANOHNI says that I Don’t Love You Anymore was one of the first songs she wrote for the album, along with Hopelessness. And it doesn’t surprise: it is the song that reminds the most to Antony and the Johnsons. It is a distressing song of heartbreak towards America. Obama needs no presentation: a disappointment letter to the actual president of the United States, where ANOHNI sings this kind of mantra in her lowest register yet. The electronic drone and the piano remind us inevitably to Swanlights (the song). Towards the end of the song, and as she did in 4 Degrees, she examines her own involvement (“Like children we believe”). Finally, Violent Men is a beautiful track, very OPN in its production, where ANOHNI voices the Future Feminism collective (which she is a proud member and founder) to announce that “We will never, never again, give birth to violent men”. The song goes a step further and I don’t understand it solely as the cry of a group of women, but as the cry of a society that must change the way it raises their men to, indeed, stop giving birth to violent men. These last songs are at first sight the less kind of the album, but they trapped me and hypnotize me from the first listen. 

The four remaining tracks move between the two explained sides of the album. Why Did You Separate Me from the Earth? is another upbeat song where ANOHNI blames the ecocide on the patriarchal society, and she wonders what we gain with the destruction of the environment. Crisis is one of the most beautiful moments on HOPELESSNESS. It is a serene lament where the artist apologizes to all the victims of the United States war policy. It has a resemblance to Another World, in the sense that it is a direct song with a plain message, using the programming of Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never as the perfect counterpoint. 

We get to the last two songs. Hopelessness (the homonymous track) presents a beautiful melody in which ANOHNI wonders how we have arrived to the actual situation. She voices the feminine archetype (echoing “Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground”). “How did I become the mother of this son? […] I, who gathered wood for fire […], How did I become a Virus?” she sings. In the second verse she elaborates another of the thesis of the album (which I have already mentioned): “I don’t care about me, I feel the animals and the trees […] I don’t give a shit what happens to you, Now we blew it all away”. Ecocide it is not about you or about me, it is a global problem and western patriarchal societies are to blame. We all, as inhabitants of said societies, are accomplices and to fight them we must leave our egos aside. The song ends with what it is probably my favorite part of the album, where the electronics of OPN mix with ANOHNI’s voice in a spectacular manner: “I’ve been taking more than I deserve, Leaving nothing in reserve, Digging till the bank runs dry, I’ve been living a lie”. 

Finally, the Earth takes the shape of a woman being abused by patriarchal capitalist societies in Marrow (“Suck the oil out of her face, Burn her hair, boil her skin”), and ends with the insidious sentence “We are all Americans now”. This is the legacy of the United States (and Western Europe): a way of life that will take us to self-destruction, if we don’t put the means to a change. I am myself accountable and in order to be consistent with what I say and think I shouldn’t be writing this from my computer, for example. At first sight it can seem like an inoffensive song and an odd and not obvious choice to close the album, but the programming of “HudMo” and its devastating message make Marrow an excellent closing track. 

Hudson Mohawke, Oneohtrix Point Never and ANOHNI give the whole album an electronic and subtle instrumentation, adorned with pianos at key moments that keep it anchored to the earth. The programming and sampled instruments are never too loud in the mix, allowing the beautiful voice of ANOHNI to stand out and the message to get clearly to us. As I have said, it is easy (especially to those familiarized with their solo work) to identify those parts of the album “more HudMo” or “more OPN”, but the whole is 100% ANOHNI. I would say that, in general, HudMo’s music is more straightforward, going towards one direction, whereas OPN’s is more circular.  

There may be some people wondering what the goal is of such an album. Well, HOPELESSNESS is an oeuvre of absolute beauty and honesty, made by a restless and committed artist. It works as an X-Ray of the situation in the world nowadays, and it is a total shift in ANOHNI’s music. The music of Antony and the Johnsons is completely timeless, characterized by the use of classic instruments. Even if the themes and the perspective can be revolutionary, there always is a timeless quality to ANOHNI's albums with Antony and the Johnsons. However, HOPELESSNESS is an album anchored in 2016, and the inclusion of a song named Obama is the epitome of it. 

It is true that I don’t really think that HOPELESSNESS is going to change anybody’s opinion. I don’t think it even aspires to it. They are just 11 tracks dealing with a wide amount of themes from a very feminine perspective, ANOHNI’s. And everyone, or almost everyone, that approaches her art already has a fairly developed feminine sensitivity. So the goal of the album would be to serve as a soundtrack of the current social political situation, and on top of it make us reflect on issues that were probably already in our heads, even if we were not aware of it. And for all of this, thank you ANOHNI.

Once again, thank you for your love.


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En julio de 2014, durante una entrevista de radio que la artista Kembra Pfahler (amiga y miembro del colectivo Future Feminism) le hacía a ANOHNI (por aquel entonces todavía Antony para nosotros), a Kembra se le escapaba que esperaba con ansia su “nuevo y muy diferente disco electrónico”. El silencio posterior nos hacía imaginar la cara de asesina que ANOHNI, perfeccionista hasta límites insospechados, le debió poner a Kembra. 

Dicha entrevista se emitía desde una pequeña emisora de Brooklyn, así que nada trascendió. Sirvió, eso sí, para llenar de nerviosismo y anticipación a sus fans más acérrimos. 

En febrero de 2015 supimos que el disco se llamaría HOPELESSNESS (Desesperación o Desesperanza), que sería un “disco electrónico de dientes afilados” co-producido por Hudson Mohawke, Oneohtrix Point Never y la misma artista y que (sorpresa) el disco saldría bajo el nombre de ANOHNI.  

Este cambio de nombre tiene como objetivo reflejar y honrar la naturaleza transgénero de la artista. ANOHNI siempre ha sido transgénero y ha hablado sin tapujos sobre ello. De hecho, es el tema central de su primera obra maestra I Am a Bird Now. Aclaro esto para que cuando leáis titulares del tipo: “Su primer disco como mujer” o “su reciente cambio de hombre a mujer” sepáis que, primero, ella se define como transgénero y, segundo, que todo este tiempo y en todos sus discos ha sido “igual de mujer”, que es mucho. La confusión debe venir porque solo ahora está empezando la prensa a nombrarla con pronombres y adjetivos femeninos, cuando deberían haberlo estado haciendo todo este tiempo.  

De todos modos, o ha sido una enorme y acertada casualidad o es inevitable pensar que este cambio persigue también distanciar su proyecto clasicista como Antony and the Johnsons de su nuevo sonido y nuevas intenciones.  

El año pasado en una entrevista para Pitchfork ANOHNI declaraba que “I don’t care about my personal life anymore in terms of self-expression. All I care about is trying to express reality, which is a really different modus operandi for a pop musician” (“Ya no me importa mi vida privada a la hora de la expression artística. Todo lo que me importa ahora es expresar la realidad, que es un modus operandi muy diferente para un músico pop”). Por ello las letras en HOPELESSNESS son directas y duras, y exponen los problemas que ANOHNI ve en el mundo actual de la forma más cristalina posible, incluyendo la propia complicidad de la artista en dichos problemas (ANOHNI ya había hablado del mundo que la rodea en sus canciones con Antony and the Johnsons, pero siempre en un tono más calmado y poético).  

En HOPELESSNESS la instrumentación y la voz quedan siempre al servicio del mensaje. Estamos ante un disco de canción protesta en 2016. La canción protesta más personal que jamás habrás escuchado.     

Sigamos con el relato de los hechos. En diciembre de 2015 y coincidiendo con la cumbre del clima de París, conocíamos el primer adelanto de HOPELESSNESS, 4 Degrees. Tras haberla presentado en vivo en verano en una versión orquestal, por fin descubríamos a qué iba a sonar ANOHNI (sobre 4 Degrees escribí largo y tendido aquí). 

En marzo de 2016 escuchábamos Drone Bomb Me, primer single y vídeo oficial del disco, y se desvelaba por fin que el 6 de mayo se pondría a la venta el álbum. (Podéis leer más sobre Drone Bomb Me aquí y aquí). 

Han pasado casi dos (largos) años desde que supimos por primera vez del proyecto, y más de un año desde que se anunció de manera oficial. ANOHNI es perfeccionista y meticulosa por naturaleza (esperas similares precedieron a los lanzamientos de I Am a Bird Now y The Crying Light) y sabíamos que íbamos a tener un proyecto cuidado al milímetro, y el resultado ha superado todas las expectativas (por lo menos las mías). Tras escucharlo obsesivamente una y otra vez puedo afirmar sin ninguna duda de que estamos (al menos) ante la tercera obra maestra que nos regala la artista, junto con I Am a Bird Now y The Crying Light. Yo también incluiría Cut the World y Turning, sus dos discos en directo, por lo que documentan, por la instrumentación y, sobre todo, por el uso de su voz. Su disco homónimo y Swanlights son ambos discos de una calidad excepcional y canciones alucinantes, si bien el acabado global no me parece tan redondo como en los antes mencionados. 

En HOPELESSNESS, a pesar de la instrumentación electrónica y el cambio en el contenido y forma del mensaje, ANOHNI (antes Antony) sigue siendo el alma y el corazón de este proyecto, y podemos encontrar resonancias y ecos con otras canciones de su repertorio. Su voz es el centro del álbum, y como ya pudimos comprobar en Cut the World, los años le sientan fenomenalmente, cantando cada vez mejor, con más gusto y contención. 

Los dos primeros cortes del álbum, Drone Bombe Me y 4 Degrees, son los más Hudson Mohawke y los más bombásticos del conjunto. Luego el álbum adopta un tono un poco más sútil. Con las dos siguientes canciones, Watch Me y Execution, simbolizan muy bien el espíritu del disco. Son cortes sensuales, sugerentes y animados, con una aparente doble lectura que luego no es tal, en los que nos atrapa como una araña atrapa a su presa en su tela, para luego clavarnos su colmillo en forma de mensaje atroz. Ese caballo de Troya del que habla ANOHNI durante las entrevistas. Watch Me es la hermana de Fistful of Love, llevando la relación masoquista hasta el mayor de los extremos (“and I know it’s out of love”, “y sé que es por amor”), ya que esta vez no es un hombre físico el origen de los abusos, sino el Gran Hermano, el estado patriarcal. Execution (“It’s an American dream”, “es un sueño americano”) comienza con la melodía de un teclado lleno de vitalidad para luego estar cantada desde el punto de vista de un preso en el corredor de la muerte. Contiene una actuación vocal brutal, muy soul, muy Otis Redding. La frase “If Europe takes it away, inject me with something else” (“si Europa se deshace de ella, inyéctame con otra cosa”) es simplemente de lo mejor del álbum. 

Los siguientes tres cortes están co-escritos con Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never), y aquí el álbum toma un cariz distinto, más introspectivo y reposado. ANOHNI cuenta que I Don’t Love You Anymore fue de las primeras canciones que escribió para el disco, junto con Hopelessness. Y no me extraña: es la canción del álbum que más recuerda a la ANOHNI de Antony and the Johnsons (¡qué lío!). En ella canta una desoladora canción de desamor hacia América (entendiendo América como Estados Unidos, metonimia mediante). Obama no necesita presentación, es una carta de decepción y desilusión hacia el actual presidente de los Estados Unidos. En ella Anohni canta con una voz más grave que nunca esta especie de mantra, donde el zumbido (drone) de las programaciones y el piano final recuerdan irremediablmente a Swanlights (la canción). Hacia el final del tema, y al igual que en 4 Degrees, ANOHNI examina su propia culpa (“Like children we believe”, “Te creímos como niños”). Por último, Violent Men es un bello tema, de producción muy OPN, en el que ANOHNI da voz al colectivo Future Feminism (del que forma parte y es fundadora) para declarar que “We will never, never again, give birth to violent men” (“nunca, nunca jamás, pariremos a hombres violentos”). Pero esta canción va más allá y ya no la entiendo como una canción cantada por un grupo de mujeres, sino como un canto de una sociedad que debe cambiar la forma en que educa a los hombres para, efectivamente, dejar de parir a hombres violentos. Obama y Violent Men son de primeras los cortes menos amables del disco, pero a mí me convencieron, atraparon y resultaron hipnóticos desde la primera escucha.  

Los cuatro cortes restantes se mueven entre ambas vertientes. Why Did You Separate Me From the Earth? es otra animada canción donde ANOHNI echa la culpa del ecocidio al patriarcado, y se pregunta qué ganamos como sociedad con la destrucción de la Tierra. Crisis es uno de los momentos más bellos del álbum, un lamento sereno en el que ANOHNI pide perdón a todas las víctimas de la política bélica de EE. UU. Es similar a Another World en el sentido de que es una canción directa, con un mensaje que va al grano, sirviendo las programaciones de Hudson Mohawke y Oneohtrix Point Never como contrapunto perfecto. 

Llegamos a las dos últimas canciones, Hopelessness (la canción que da título al álbum) presenta otra preciosa melodía en la que ANOHNI se pregunta cómo hemos llegado hasta la situación actual, dando voz al arquetipo femenino, en un eco a Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground (“How did I become the mother of this son? […] I, who gathered wood for fire […], How did I become a Virus?”, “¿Cómo me convertí en la madre de este hijo? Yo, que recogí leña para el fuego. ¿Cómo me convertí en un virus?). En la segunda estrofa ANOHNI esgrime otra de las tesis del disco (que ya he comentado al principio del artículo): “I don’t care about me, I feel the animals and the trees […] I don’t give a shit what happens to you, Now we blew it all away” (“Yo misma no me importo demasiado, comprendo a los animales y los árboles, (...) Me importa una mierda lo que te pase, Ahora que lo hemos estropeado todo”). El ecocidio no trata ni de ti ni de mí, es un problema global íntimamente ligado a las sociedades desarrolladas occidentales. Todos, como miembros de ellas, somos cómplices a mayor o menor nivel y para luchar contra él debemos aparcar nuestros egos. La canción termina con uno de mis momentos favoritos del disco, donde las programaciones de OPN se mezclan con la voz de ANOHNI de una forma espactuclar (“I’ve been taking more than I deserve, Leaving nothing in reserve, Digging till the bank runs dry, I’ve been living a lie”, “He estado tomando más de lo que merezco, Sin dejar nada en reserva, Excavando hasta secar la ribera, He estado viviendo una mentira”).  

Finalmente, la Tierra toma forma de mujer abusada por las sociedades patriarcales capitalistas en Marrow (“Suck the oil out of her face, Burn her hair, boil her skin”, “Succiona el petróleo de su faz, Quema sus cabellos, hierve su piel”) y termina con la insidiosa frase “We are all Americans now” (“Ya somos todos norteamericanos”). Este es el legado de Estados Unidos (y de Europa Occidental), un modo de vida que no sabemos a dónde nos llevará, pero donde las perspectivas no son nada alentadoras (y que, yo mismo, para ser coherente con lo que digo y pienso no debería estar escribiendo esto desde mi ordenador). Puede parecer una canción inofensiva a primera vista, pero las programaciones de Hudson Mohawke y su mensaje devastador la convierten en un no tan obvio de primeras pero estupendo final de disco. 

Hudson Mohawke, Oneohtrix Point Never y la misma ANOHNI envuelven todo el disco de una instrumentación electrónica y sútil, aderezada de pianos en momentos puntuales que la anclan a la tierra. Las programaciones y los instrumentos sampleados nunca están demasiado altos en la mezcla, para permitir destacar la preciosa voz de ANOHNI y que el mensaje llegue claro a nuestros oídos. Como ya he comentado, es fácil (sobre todo para los familiarizados con el trabajo de estos músicos en solitario) identificar aquellas partes del disco “más HudMo” o “más OPN”, aunque el conjunto es 100% ANOHNI. Yo diría que, en general, la música de HudMo apunta más hacia una dirección mientras que la de OPN es más circular.  

Habrá quien se pregunte cuál es el objeto de hacer un disco como este. HOPELESSNESS es una obra de absoluta belleza y honestidad hecha por una artista inquieta y comprometida. Sirve también como una radiografía de la situación actual, además de un cambio total en la música de ANOHNI. La música de Antony and the Johnsons siempre ha tenido un carácter totalmente atemporal, caracterizada por la utilización de instrumentos clásicos. Aunque la temática y la perspectiva puedan ser revolucionarias, los discos de ANOHNI con Antony and the Johnsons desprenden siempre un sentimiento de atemporalidad. Sin embargo, HOPELESSNESS es un disco de 2016, cuyo epítome es la inclusión de Obama como título de una de las canciones.  

Cierto es que no creo que vaya a cambiar la opinión de nadie, ni que lo pretenda. Son once canciones que tratan una cantidad de temas muy amplia desde un punto de vista muy femenino, el de ANOHNI. Y todos los que nos acercamos a su arte (o casi todos), tenemos una sensibilidad femenina muy desarrollada. Así que el objetivo del disco es servir de banda sonora para la situación político-social de 2016, y de paso hacernos reflexionar sobre temas que seguramente ya estuviesen en nuestra cabeza, fuésemos conscientes de ello o no. 

Y por todo eso, gracias ANOHNI. Una vez más, thank you for your love.
 

Last Edited By: Ricardo Babooshka Jun 22 16 12:06 PM. Edited 1 time

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Rosa Blackstar

Posts: 712 Member Since:19 January, 2014

#1 [url]

Jun 24 16 9:37 AM

Thank you so much for this, Ricardo. You said everything I thought but I was unable to express in my short article. You have done a great job and have explained perfectly some topics that lots of professional media have filled with errors. So proud of you!   

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Last Edited By: Rosa Blackstar Jun 24 16 9:39 AM. Edited 1 time.

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alexa

Posts: 62 Member Since:21 May, 2014

#2 [url]

Jun 26 16 4:10 PM

Ricardo, such a great statement of your point of view and beautifully crafted! The use of a timeline is a really good idea , as well as the explanation of Anohni' s way of being Transgender as far as we are able to tell - too often in recent articles about Hopelessnes and her name change, people got it really wrong, also in German reviews. While I agree with most of what you have said and understand what you mean by "flawless finish", I find it hard not to regard an album with songs like 'Cripple and Starfish' , 'Rapture' , 'River of Sorrow'...... even the unlucky titled - but what a great song!- 'Hitler in my heart' as a masterpiece.😘
 

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Ricardo Babooshka

Posts: 155 Member Since:20 October, 2015

#3 [url]

Jun 28 16 11:39 AM

thank u, Alexa !!!! i doubted about writing that line. the first Antony and the Johnsons' album is absolutely wonderful, and it is the work of art of a young artist with such a clear view, it amazes me. maybe it is not what the first album and swanligts don't have, but what i am a bird now and the crying light do have. both are albums where every song is in that position for a reason and interwoven with the previous one and the next one in such a crafted way it is amazing to me how the whole album comes together.

i abolutely adore both albums and, as you said, Rapture, River of Sorrow, Ghost or The Spirit Was Gone are amongs ANOHNI's finest work

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alexa

Posts: 62 Member Since:21 May, 2014

#4 [url]

Jul 1 16 5:11 PM

Ricardo, I completely understand your point about I am bird now and The crying light. Hopelessness surely does have the same quality in that respect ( the positioning of the songs .... ), interestingly, as we have experienced in concert now, it also works in a different order. Though, if I remember correctly, Obama and Violent Men were played in the same order as on the album. Swanlights is such a 'coulourful' album and I love it for that. The styles and songs are really varied and it is not as coherent as the aforementioned, rather eclectic,  but came with an ( amazing!) art book instead, , which was so very fitting and made a Gesamtkunstwerk of it......  IF I had to choose ONE  A&tJ/Anohni album for the famous island, I would be lost !!! 😉😀

 

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