BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2009 Antony and the Johnsons: The Crying Light (EMI)

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Antony and the Johnsons: Daylight and the Sun
BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2009 Antony and the Johnsons: The Crying Light (EMI)

In a lecture to some university music students recently I attempted to explain what an all-inclusive category "rock culture" has become: alongside hip-hop, pop,, metal and so on, it also includes artists as dispirate as Leonard Cohen, Bjork, Rod Stewart and Amy Winehouse -- and even Antony Hegarty who is the ethereal voice up-front here, and who sings back-up with Lou Reed.

Quite where you locate his fragile balladry is a problem: it is art-house, chamber music with a gloomy cabaret quality -- and sounds like very little else in contemporary music.

The previous A&J album I Am A Bird Now was much acclaimed and won Britain's prestigious Mercury Award in 2005 (He was born in Britain but has been a longtime New Yorker, which seems his natural home).

His fragile, high vocals are here deployed on an even more melancholy collection of songs which are stripped right back to essentials, and his emotions seem even more naked. Death, the passage of time, images from the natural world, loss and loneliness are all essayed here ("I need another place, will there be peace?" is a typical expression), and as cellos scrape and woodwind conjure up emotional discomfort you are transported to his strange and unsettling world.

If that all sounds alarmingly glum it isn't, his voice is equally elevating, and songs such as Daylight and the Sun have an exquisite pop-cum-Broadway feel with an almost oceanic shift of mood and melody. Everglade is a discreetly orchestrated piece with lonesome flute, and Aeon has a slow soul quality as he extends to an anxious and desperate shout: "Hold that man I love so much".

It is unlikely Antony will ever be widely embraced in the way that Cohen and Bjork have been, but his is a rare and special voice and these stately, passionate and undeniably beautiful songs will impress themselves deeply on those who take the time.

Just 10 songs in 40 minutes . . . and quite extraordinary. 

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nathan graves - Feb 6, 2009

a special voice in the wilderness and weary world i think too.

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