The latest diamond to be mined from the underground, Anika bears the imprimatur of Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, whose other band Beak> backs the singer on her self-titled debut. Unapologetically raw, it’s surely one of the most sinister recordings ever issued on hip-hop imprint Stones Throw.
Comparisons to Nico are hard to avoid, even beyond the mononyms. Their faces draped in rigidly straight, bleached-blond strands, both force out English syllables in a robotic German accent. But where Nico had the Velvets as a backdrop, Anika works in murkier textures, floating her reverb-drenched monotone over woozy krautrock, trashy no-wave and brooding dub, punctuated by damaged guitar leads and driving bass lines.
The Brit-born, Berlin-bred artist put her career as a political reporter on hold to do music. Her debut carries traces of that day job with two dub versions of Dylan’s “Masters of War,” the first of which drops in an interview with a U.S. soldier lamenting the occupation in Iraq.
On “No One’s There,” one of two originals on the album, she blares out a bleak refrain, “Stop looking over your shoulder / No one’s there,” as a guitar squeals and moans over an insistent reggae pulse. Unpolished and opinionated, the 24-year-old seems utterly malleable, a quality that must’ve been appealing to Barrow. Though he’s busy with the Portishead tour, his Beak> bandmates back the agitprop chanteuse in her Chicago premiere.