I woke up one recent morning to the sound of Antony and the Johnson’s “Another World.” My clock radio is set to KEXP, and by some miracle, the alarm was triggered just as the track was beginning. Most often, a modern rock track will jar me out of sleep rudely, creating a shock to the system. But this time, I was brought slowly out of slumber by Antony’s incredibly mournful yet powerful vocals and I merely lay there, transfixed, allowing myself to remain prostrate, taking in every note, word and nuance. It was transforming. Somehow, after that awakening, the rest of my day seemed tranquil and yet pensive. All of my senses seemed heightened. The joys of life seemed more joyful and the lows were felt more deeply than was usual. I’m normally an emotional person, but the music of Antony Hegarty seems to finely hone those sensitive edges.
I may not have been able to personally relate to most of the gender issue-based songs on Antony’s previous album, I Am a Bird Now, but that didn’t seem to matter in the slightest. It was Antony’s willingness to put himself out there emotionally that made listeners able to connect with his music. The same holds true for new album, The Crying Light, though this time around, the ability to relate to the subject matter is more universal. Songs throughout the album are of an environmental nature, speaking to the earth, man’s relationship with it, along with birth, life and death of man and his surroundings. Sound like a downer? Sure, in ways I suppose it is, but gloriously, beautifully and exultantly so.
The first time I heard Antony was a revelation. His voice, delicately orchestrated music and poetically earnest lyrics were unlike anything I had heard before, though many still try to find comparison. Yes, there are connections with Nina Simone, Boy George, Scott Walker, Bowie, Nomi and the entire scene surrounding Andy Warhol and his acolytes, but these touchstones don’t even begin to describe the depths of Antony’s `soul music.’ His voice lilts with haunting tremolo through the lyrics as if every word was terribly important, and the truth is, they are. For instance, in the standout track “Kiss My Name,” a more pop driven affair than the more classically produced opening three tracks, Antony sings, “As I lie, murdered in ground / the rain compacting sodden sound / of songs I sang the years before / when it was time to rain / upon the coal that I became.” Antony treats life and death as natural parts of the earth, not some religiously concocted cocktail to quell the masses. It’s refreshing in its starkness and beauty of truth.
“Another World,” the song that was the title track of the preceding EP, the first taste of what was to come on this new album, is simply put, one of the most heartbreaking looks at death and / or the environment that exists. Along with images of polar bears swimming in iceless waters, there is probably no more of a lonely and sorrowful view of what is happening to the global community. The bluesy tune, “Aeon” is another standout, though that might be the wrong word as this album plays so well as a whole that it almost seems a crime to pull particular tracks out piecemeal. “Aeon,” which is somewhat reminiscent of a pop dirge, much like U2’s “Love is Blindness,” finds Antony personifying eternity itself as both father and son, clutching the singer to his bosom from his beginning to his ending. It’s a song of incredible depth, yet told in the simplest terms. That’s not easy to do. One has to wait until the close of the album to hear my favorite track, however, in “Everglade.” Composer Nico Muhly’s string arrangements, as they weave and dance around Antony’s anchoring piano, are the most tear-inducing sounds I’ve heard on record in my life. (I later realized that Muhly worked with Philip Glass on the astounding Hours soundtrack, and also with both Antony and Björk on her album, Volta. Then it all started making more sense.) The reason the strings are so effective is that they invoke both triumph and tragedy as Antony sings of the acceptance of death with gut-wrenching words such as “When I’m peeping in a parlour of trees / And the leaves are winking all around” and “I’m home, my heart sobs in my veins / But brains they play the softest games.” I’ve heard the song four times now, and I’ve wept every time.
There are some who have said that The Crying Light is simply more of the same presented on the eye opening I Am a Bird Now. There are others who cannot seem to reconcile their tastes with Antony’s signature vocal style. Of course, these people are obviously insane. The Crying Light is a singular work. Like a great novelist or director, Antony has created an album that is thematic, sprinkled with recurring ideas and language, and containing an emotional core that is simply devastating. The things that I enjoy most in art, film, books or music, are those works that leave me thinking about them long after the fact. The things that stay with you are the things worth remembering. And in The Crying Light, Antony’s third album, he has created something that is even more memorable than what he’s produced before.
Kate Bush- The Sensual World
Nina Simone- Wild is the Wind
MP3: Another World