mon 22/04/2024

Album: ANOHNI - My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross | reviews, news & interviews

Album: ANOHNI - My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross

Album: ANOHNI - My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross

An unexpected country-soul diversion for the apocalyptic chanteuse

A “back to basics” album is a risky thing. When an act has expanded into big, lavish or experimental production, it’s not a simple act to strip that away. Trying to go back to the intimacy or spontaneity of early work can feel forced: they may find they’ve become reliant on the possibilities of studio craft, or simply evolved into a different kind of artist. U2’s recent horrorshow of a catalogue-reworking album, for example, shows just how laboured such an exercise can be.

And for those who’ve thrived on electronic sound it can even seem like a betrayal to step into Jools Holland-friendly rootsiness. 

It certainly seems like a bold choice for ANHONI. After all, her biggest creative shift so far has been from delicate, soulful, sometimes even querulous, piano ballads to the barnstorming electro-goth of 2016’s HOPELESSNESS album and its follow up Paradise EP in 2017. This change coincided with her transition from Antony to ANHONI, and with it came stronger vocals, more commanding stagecraft, and seemingly all-round coming into herself. Though she has made acoustic and lo-fi recordings since, as recently as last year, she was in similar avenging-angel form on guest spots on Hercules & Love Affair’s In Amber.

So to return to real instruments and a retro sound is an interesting move to say the least – doubly so given she’s revived the name “The Johnsons” from the Antony & The Johnsons days for her new backing band. But is it a step backwards? Thankfully, no. To start with it’s very different to the Nina Simone indebted, piano led sound of 2005’s I’m a Bird Now. The new Johnsons, led by producer / guitarist Jimmy Hogarth, instead lean into a country-soul groove, something that feels a bit less composed, more organic and of the earth.  

However, ANHONI’s voice remains as simultaneously agile and stentorian as on HOPELESSNESS, using the sweetened pill of the groove to deliver messages of… well… hopelessness – as well as fear, hate, agony and imminent mortality. On the latter topic, “Sliver of Ice” – which quotes from a dying Lou Reed – is a terrifyingly raw portrait of staring death in the face, and elsewhere there’s the sense, too, of facing up to ecological catastrophe. It’s not an easy listen, and just in case you felt like just enjoying the sound, there’s a raw, noisy intervention early on in “Go Ahead” to keep you on your toes. Comfortingly retro it very much isn’t. However, it does feel like an artist continuing to inhabit themselves in a very thought-through way, and in this context the intentional oldness of the sound is genuinely a bold choice, in the same way the electronics of its predecessor were. A tough listen, but an impressive move.

@joemugg

Listen to "It Must Change":

There's a terrifyingly raw portrait of staring death in the face, and elsewhere there’s the sense, too, of facing up to ecological catastrophe

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