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Antony and the Johnsons' latest release reveals new direction without losing old fans

Adam Spektor

Issue date: 1/30/09 Section: Focus
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Antony Hegarty is nearing 40 years old, yet his music bears out the notion that he has the wisdom of an 80-year-old, the spirit of a child, and most certainly, a voice that is ghostly and too surreal and sublime to even come from a living thing. If 2005's I Am a Bird Now suggested that Hegarty and his revolving door of musicians, the Johnsons, were an emotive force to be reckoned with, their latest, The Crying Light solidifies it. This is a truly gorgeous work of modern music, transcending the limits of beauty and creating something otherworldly, yet still ultimately human.

The beauty of Antony and the Johnsons' work is easy to miss out on, particularly because Hegarty's warbly croon is an acquired taste. He sounds like no other singer out there, lost in time somewhere between 1920s cabaret, 1960s soul, and today's indie vocalizations. He knows that his voice is a unique instrument of its own, and he uses it wisely. Whether he is belting his lungs out on the soulful "Aeon," or filling in negative space with a soft croon on "One Dove," his voice is always effective. When backed by modern classical composer Nico Muhly's rich arrangements on The Crying Light, the result is nothing short of sublime.

Sonically, The Crying Light is very similar to his previous efforts, although a few subtle distinctions reveal that Antony and the Johnsons are not simply repeating themselves. First of all, Hegarty's lyrics deal less and less with his personal issues of transgenderism, a subject that no matter how universal he could make it appear, was still alienating to some extent. Those themes found in songs like "For Today I Am a Boy" and "You Are My Sister" are gone, and much broader, wide-reaching themes of alienation, desperation and a need to escape the physical and spiritual confines of Earth found in songs like "Hope There's Someone" are now given fuller detail.

The main difference between a song like "Hope There's Someone" and something like "Another World" from The Crying Light is that, in the former, Hegarty fears the inevitability of death, but in the latter, he welcomes some sort of passage to another world, despite the devastating sentiments of "I'll miss the animals/I'm gonna miss you all." Elsewhere, themes of a need to find comfort outside of this world are found in some of the album's most melodramatic moments.

The second great difference between The Crying Light and I Am a Bird Now is that Antony no longer needs to place focus on guest artists like Devendra Banhart and Rufus Wainwright. Now, he goes it alone, a suitable move for a man whose voice does not need accoutrements and support from others, no matter how notable they may be.

Perhaps his hyper-emotiveness could become overbearing, but the sincerity and earnestness of Hegarty's voice and the lush performances of the Johnsons prevent any moment of the album from sounding contrived or banal. The Crying Light may not find itself too far removed from Hegarty's previous work, but it cements the singer's reputation as one of the most unique and important voices in today's popular music.
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In This Issue

News

  • Black History Month luncheon
  • Empowered by credit cards
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  • Integrity Week to kick off
  • Robert Petit lecture elucidates Cambodia's "killing fields"
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  • Survey results provide new details of SAGES progress
  • Tuition increase scaled back amid tough times

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  • Browns fans should rethink rivalry
  • Dukes, Gardella place at Wheaton Invitational
  • Hockey: Against Pitt-Greensburg, third period and power play problems
  • Spartan Spotlight: Bryan Erce
  • Swimmers get wins in last meet before conferences
  • Throwback Weekend: Old-school jerseys are a growing trend
  • Track: Case, Mellon go head-to-head in first dual
  • Women's Basketball: Henry's last-second layup lifts Spartans

Fun Page

  • Crossword Answers
  • Jumble Answers
  • Sudoku Answers

Opinion

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  • Letter to the editor: Putting life on hold for inauguration is over the top
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  • Listen Up
  • Local band makes name for itself, even across the Atlantic
  • Rocker teaches how to make a band work in new book
  • The Buzz
  • The Secret Ingredient: Popcorn Paradise
  • The Spartan guide to style: Preparing to spring forward
  • The Worst Case Scenario: Saving the economy
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