Antony and the Johnsons – The Crying Light

anthonycryinglightIt feels as if it’s been more than ten years since Antony and the Johnson’s breakthrough triumph, I Am a Bird Now. Mostly due to the fact that it felt like such a timeless wonder, one could only ponder in awe as to what Antony Hegarty would do next. Whereas that album encircled themes of love, acceptance, sexuality, heartbreak, forgiveness and so much more; The Crying Light finds Hegarty delivering a resonating homage to dancer Kazuo Ohno (reflected in photo on the cover.) But the true hero of this album is Hegarty and his voice as it is uncluttered, front and center and left looming large.

Things really pick up steam around the halfway point and they never let up from there. After the frail beauty of lead single, “Another World,” each subsequent song features a rousing climax that finds Hegarty near-breakdown. “Aeon” discovers him shouting, “…loved so much!” about the man he desperately needs and all of this is cemented with an electric guitar that switches from hushed arpeggios to scratching riffs. It all ends with Hegarty whispering, “My dear boy, won’t you take care of me?”

While this kind of sequencing may throw some off, it’s gorgeously painted with subtle, yet distinct string progressions composed by Hegarty and Nico Muhly. With these lushly orchestrated songs in place, Hegarty is free to sing and take control of the songs. His voice has never sounded better and the music simply glows on the album’s closer, “Everglade.” Complete with oboe, clarinets, echoing strings and a light piano, Hegarty takes the steering wheel and arrives to an unusual ending. After leading the instruments to a powerful climax, his voice dies away and it is the orchestra, alone, that closes out the album—rare and still, extraordinary.

Everything on the first-half follows the same formulated method. And it’s with this stagnate beginning that overall, hurts the album’s promise. Sure, the opening notes of “Her Eyes are Underneath the Ground” could leave even the casual listener gasping for breath, but it could have been sequenced with much more precision. Things pick up, in a tempo and style sense, with “Kiss My Name.” Hegarty’s delivery is energetic and the flickering flute behind him flutters like a chirping bird.

One can’t deny the uniqueness and enigmatic force of Hegarty’s voice, it is truly exceptional. His warbling delivery on “Dust and Water” is a fitting companion to the understated choir around him that sounds distant and spectral, to the point of chills. And ultimately, it’s these moments that will shine a light on what an immense talent Hegarty is.

Whether he is singing on poorly crafted Björk albums or lending his pipes to disco kings, Hercules and Love Affair, Hegarty is right at home on these albums with the Johnsons. Entirely singular and utterly powerful, his voice is something to behold. The chance to lead everything in only the manner he knows and his skill at creating openly honest and real songs is a definite gift. And although The Crying Light may not be as directly moving or as astounding as its predecessor, it’s a fine album on its own.