19 January 2009

Antony & the Johnsons - The Crying Light

Note: My review of Antony & the Johnson's The Crying Light is set to appear in this week's issue of Crawdaddy! on Wednesday. But I can't resist republishing it here, as it is such a beautiful album.

Antony’s voice is an undeniable force of staggering beauty. He makes a soulful, bluesy and nearly operatic sound that abounds with ample emotive capability. He could literally recite the phone book and he’d leave me feeling something.

On The Crying Light, like its predecessor, 2005’s I Am a Bird Now, that something is sorrow. It’s a warm kind of melancholy though. It’s a voice that knows what it feels like to be alone to exist androgynously on the border, always on the periphery looking in. And through his warbly coo he welcomes you into his personal angst, in a way that is both foreign and universally accessible. As song titles like “Her Eyes Underneath the Ground”, “Daylight and the Sun” and “Dust and Water” suggest there’s an emphasis here on the natural world and one’s place within and beyond it.

This is however is a much more subdued affair. Gone are the fiery, stomping horns of “Fistful of Love” and there are surely no hot club numbers like “Blind” his exuberant, disco diva contribution to last year’s Hercules and Love Affair album. This time around it’s just pure Antony.

The arrangements are even sparser than anything he’s ever recorded. Minus a couple of sweet string parts and some dour piano accompaniment, there’s not much more than his vocal stylings, which are left to shine in the forefront. (The haunting “Dust and Water” is nearly a capella.) The prominence of such a powerful voice is certainly welcome given his ability to control and contort his Nina Simone-like warble into something so naturally compelling.

The epic “Daylight and the Sun” finds Antony “crying for daylight, daylight in my heart, daylight in the trees.” It’s six minutes of heart-on-a-sleeve yearning and is probably the most immediately gripping of the album’s ten tightly cohesive tracks. The crescendo-ing arpeggios of “Aeon” and the swirling pixie-dust strings of “Kiss My Name” are additional highlights, although The Crying Light is best consumed as a redemptive whole, rather then picked apart on a song-by-song basis.

His words (and his perspective) are parlayed with disarming authenticity. While listening to The Crying Light, it almost sounds as if you’re eavesdropping on someone’s very own cathartic experience. And yet it also sounds like it was meant for all of us. There is something almost comforting about the ability to accept one’s solitude and outsider status with grace and dignity, even if you do feel like you’ll never find acceptance in this corporeal life. The stately somberness of “Another World” truly exemplifies this theme. “I need another place,” he plaintively mourns over gospel-tinged piano. It’s just one of many minor key melodies that so effectively taps into the universal desire to belong somewhere, anywhere –which is probably what will find you coming back for future listens. Antony gets what so many people don’t.

Daylight and the Sun - Antony & the Johnsons

1 comment:

LMS said...

You did a way better job reviewing this than I did. I sort of failed to pull out my grown-up words amidst all the beauty.