Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Crying Light - Antony & the Johnsons

The Crying Light

Antony & the Johnsons
Secretly Canadian Records.

SCQ Rating: 87%

Three and a half years have passed since I Am a Bird Now, a passing of time that has dulled neither its rich melancholy nor a single emotional punch. It was a record clamoring for intimate understanding and sexual identity but what made it a modern classic was its redemptive quality; the hard-fought battle to feel comfortable in one’s own skin. Regardless of your sexual orientation or disposition, I Am a Bird Now’s over-arching theme applied to every set of ears listening. After landing a ton of critical praise and a Mercury Prize, Antony shines his lyrical light upon the universal in The Crying Light; a document of aftermaths, both of Antony’s quest as well as our current global plight.

Within a minute of ‘Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground’ it’s evident that Antony’s voice feels less encumbered, less confined to the emotional prison of his previous work, and it’s early proof that his talents aren’t limited to such contextual, transgendered material. Tracks ‘Epilepsy is Dancing’ and ‘Kiss My Name’ are upbeat, full-band compositions that swoon with romantic contentment, giving earnest listeners the comfort that Antony has found a happier muse. Even the orchestrated finale ‘Everglade’ is brimming with a sense of closure; one that Antony luckily undercuts by a growing, new tension: the fragile health of our planet. Now don’t sweat it… The Crying Light features no preachy, ecological torch songs. Instead, Antony uses broad lyrical strokes to mark his concerns of mortality and nature. From ‘Dust and Water’s near-hymnal on the cycle of life to ‘Another World’s restless plea, Antony alludes that how we came to prosper as a people may be incomprehensible but we should respect that mystery by protecting what’s essential to us.

Perhaps because of its less-personal content, The Crying Light carries a lighter burden that routinely shifts its tension for reflecting harmony. This subtler work is additionally pleasing as it achieves a beauty comparable to its predecessor without the all-star cast that bolstered I Am a Bird Now. The key to these ten songs is restraint, elegantly displayed on the piano-folk of the title track and the late-night, NY love song ‘One Dove’. When Antony loosens such focus it’s a toss-up; while ‘Aeon’, with its vocal layers and metronomic guitar, is the clear album highlight, its neighbouring ‘Daylight and the Sun’ crosses into dramatic performance that nearly requires a three-act visual accompaniment. It’s a rare, borderline case of over-reaching that like many other tracks here are embraced by avant-composer Nico Muhly. Neither Lou Reed, Rufus nor Devendra were as indispensible as Muhly is here, creating stirring arrangements that turn excellent piano sonatas into sweeping, compassionate aural experiences. These two composers were born to work together.

As its similar black and white cover-art might suggest, The Crying Light is a wonderful companion-piece to I Am a Bird Now. Where that landmark 2005 release was an inward examination of one’s identity and eventual liberation, this new album looks out into cities, fields and forests for greater inspection of a universal predicament. We, as communities and countries, are slowly becoming aware of the damages we’re inflicting on Mother Nature. Through the misunderstood, androgynous and gorgeous voice of Antony Hegarty, we have a true ambassador for another world.

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