Release Date: Jan 20, 2009
Record label: Secretly Canadian
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Pop
Neo-classical underpinnings are entwined lovingly with broken pop songs and secretive after-hours cabaret poems. Check the opener, "Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground. " The piano and cello fall together as one slow dancer, alone in the spotlight, keeping memory as time: "In the garden, with my mother/I stole a flower/With my mother, in her power/I chose a flower/I saw six eyes glistening in my womb/I felt you calling me in the gloom/Rest assured your love is pure.
Antony gets back to natureAntony and the Johnsons’ new full-length, The Crying Light, reaches out from the band’s investment in gender issues to grapple with nature of a different sort: the earth, familial relationships and a life-force passed on. The scope of the record spans generations, but retains a sense of communion with its listener. The intimacy of the Johnsons’ sound is intensified by golden-boy avant-classical composer Nico Muhly’s arrangements.
In 2005, Antony and the Johnsons beat the likes of Coldplay and M.I.A. to win England?s esteemed Mercury Prize with I Am a Bird Now — an improbable amalgam of orchestral, almost funereally paced chamber pop and far-out themes (mortality, sibling rivalry, transgenderism). It’s a testament to the otherworldly talents of singer Antony Hegarty, who sounds like Nina Simone with a small tree frog in her throat, that Bird‘s follow-up, The Crying Light — a haunting collection of ballads that play like transmissions from a mournful, elegant alien — nearly equals its predecessor.
It's been lovely to watch Antony Hegarty blossom in the years since winning the 2005 Mercury Prize for his second album, I am a Bird Now. At the time, it was hard to know what the world would make of the Sussex-born, New York-dwelling, Anglo-Irishman. Six foot-plus and built like a farm labourer, yet defiantly transgender and blessed with an uncanny, androgynous singing voice, he seemed like an emissary from another, more unusual universe.
2008 shined well on Antony Hegarty. The immensely talented frontman of lethargic chamber pop vehicle Antony and the Johnsons found perhaps unlikely success as one of a team of vocalists for the new-disco club pop group Hercules and Love Affair. The group’s debut, self-titled release met high critical acclaim (George Booker gave the record an 8/10 here) and found its way onto many a year-end list.
Otherworldly torch singer Antony Hegarty returns with his third full-length album, but he's toned down his melodramatic tendencies, avoiding the overwrought bombast he's occasionally succumbed to in the past. Hegarty's still focused on melancholy piano ballads, and he brought in composer Nico Muhly to help out with arrangements, which has fleshed out his sound with subtle textures and flourishes. He's also singing less about gender and transformation; instead, his lyrics are about the more vague and accessible themes of nature and loss.
Although Antony and the Johnsons’ breakthrough (and Mercury Prize-winning) sophomore album, I Am a Bird Now, was mostly about unbearable loneliness and the nature of self-identity (sexual and otherwise), the band’s third album, the sublime The Crying Light, is about bigger-picture issues. Namely, how life intertwines with death, and our place on this planet. So instead of songs about turning into birds, we get songs about how Antony will miss the snow if this Earth ever ends.
When we last heard from Antony Hegarty (as writer, rather than as Bjork / CocoRosie / Hercules & Love Affair guest vocalist), every line and note yearned for another world, another gender. That theme was threaded through the debut album from Antony & the Johnsons, underlying the songs about masochism (feminine sexuality, fantasized from without), songs questioning religion, and songs clutching at transcendence in the ecstasy of singing (the bloodless, bodyless high of a long held note). The follow-up found an outspoken community – an almost unprecedented show of solidarity from more or less queer and genderqueer performers – who never had such a receptive audience without a heavy measure of camp.
Review Summary: This time around, he deserves to be winning awards.To begin with, I refer you to This is Your Brain on Music, the excellent book by Daniel J. Levitin. In the introduction of this book, Levitin briefly considers the nature of memorable music, and why certain music is remembered years after the fact, how music can become more famous with time, and how some musicians who were originally considered important artists can either be forgotten or relegated to secondary importance.
The music of Antony Hegarty is a famously acquired taste. Even those who loved his 2005 Mercury prize-winning album, I Am a Bird Now, could feel a degree of apprehension about the follow up. I Am a Bird Now may well belong in the same category as The Marble Index by Nico: you admire its bold individuality, you thrill to its cathartic power, but you're not exactly overwhelmed with the urge to buy another album like it.
Antony Hegarty has made a career of sounding hyper-emotive. Having one of the most immediately recognizable voices in the current musical landscape, his gentle croons are accented by seemingly inherent vibrato, and accompanied by soft, minimal percussion and epic strings. Antony and the Johnsons’ breakout 2005 release I Am a Bird Now showcased a perfect balance between Antony’s outward insecurities and the employment of his voice as a near-animatronic, androgynous instrument.
It feels as if it’s been more than ten years since Antony and the Johnson’s breakthrough triumph, I Am a Bird Now. Mostly due to the fact that it felt like such a timeless wonder, one could only ponder in awe as to what Antony Hegarty would do next. Whereas that album encircled themes of love, acceptance, sexuality, heartbreak, forgiveness and so much more; The Crying Light finds Hegarty delivering a resonating homage to dancer Kazuo Ohno (reflected in photo on the cover.) But the true hero of this album is Hegarty and his voice as it is uncluttered, front and center and left looming large.
Antony Hegarty's second LP, 2005's I Am a Bird Now, was refreshing, haunting, and unusual, a picture of struggle and self-actualization from the Lou Reed crony. The Crying Light, dedicated to centenarian Butoh dancer Kazuo Ohno, who graces the album's cover, is a different animal. Opener "Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground" and "Another World" echo Bird, but the Johnsons misstep into lounge for "Epilepsy Is Dancing" and the repetitive "Kiss My Name." Hegarty's preternatural falsetto burnishes "Daylight and the Sun," and his Celtic roots pluck "Dust and Water" from a melodramatic sea.
Antony & The Johnsons’ perfectly-timed, cameo-laden (here a Boy George, there a Lou Reed) sophomore album I Am A Bird Now catapulted singer-songwriter Antony Hegarty out of the relative obscurity of David Tibet’s Durto roster. Not long after the album came out, Antony was playing to packed houses at Carnegie Hall. And when you walked into a gallery in Chelsea and heard his music used as the soundtrack to a slideshow of Nan Goldin photos, you knew his transformation into a full-blown art world celebrity was complete.