Wednesday, January 21, 2009

That Voice! - The new album from Antony & The Johnsons

by Thomas Matich

I like the new Animal Collective album and perhaps it truly is the Best Album of 2009 as many critics have already crowned it. But, I find myself gravitating more towards the vocally vibrant The Crying Light, the latest release from Antony Hegarty. Either way, both records are magnificent and watersheds in their careers. Animal Collective just announced a May 20 show at the Royal Oak Music Hall. Antony might not make it closer than Chicago. Boo.

Anyway, I'm posting my slightly "uncutz" review of The Crying Light that hit newsstands today in Real Detroit in order to get a little practice publishing on Blogger until we switch up the scenery.

Antony & The Johnsons
The Crying Light
Secretly Canadian

It’s all about the voice. Looks have something to do with it, too. What comes out of their mouth should be interesting. It’s the reason why we hang-up posters of certain musicians instead of others.

Watching David Letterman some years ago was when I first saw and heard Antony Hegarty sing. Hunched over a grand piano, pale-faced, bobbing his leather jacket bound body as he bubbled the poignant “You Are My Sister,” I thought to myself “Boy George has really let himself go…” (Boy George did in fact sing backing vocals). The song came from Antony & The Johnson’s critically acclaimed, Mercury Prize winning sophomore set, I Am a Bird Now.

The breakout recording saw Hegarty paired with queer legends like Lou Reed, Rufus Wainwright, Boy George and fellow freaks such as Devendra Banhart. But it’s Hegarty’s voice - OH that distinct coo - which stays burned in your brain. A fluttering reverb of Bryan Ferry cloaked in the furry whimper of a mysterious midnight owl with the grandeur of an opera singer and a physique ranging from bloated Tegan and Sara to Leigh Bowery.

I could see myself sleeping with Hegarty - if only cuddling up inside his warm Teddy Ruxpin frame as he rippled soft sound waves into my ears. The songs on The Crying Light have the beauty of lullabies, the luxury of sleeping atop heaven’s peaceful clouds, while having an aerial view of devils roaming the world below (see the acoustic plucking on the title track with Hegarty’s haunting, damaged purr).

In the last year, Hegarty has arguably become the premier, or at least most compelling, vocalist in modern music. He joined the disco diva ranks of Grace Jones, Sylvester and Gloria Gaynor with his divine sparkle on “Blind,” the dance-floor smash from Hercules & Love Affair’s riveting debut. The New York collective saw Hegarty lending his luminous vocal chops to several killer cuts that demonstrated his infinite range - funk, house, techno - he’s got the clubs covered!

Brilliant those collaborations may be, it was the EP that preceded Crying Light, Another World, which made me a believer. The standout, “Shake That Devil,” is one of the vocal performances of the decade. Hegarty delivers the musical equivalent to “The Raven,” with a chilly, hair-raising build-up that typhoons into a hoedown that could only take place in Warhol’s Factory.

Crying Light is a testament to Hegarty’s talent, proving that he can take on any vocalist - from Morrissey to Josh Groban. Hip gay composer Nico Muhly masterfully orchestrates these highly nuanced arrangements, bountiful with chimes, sitar and woodwinds, from the misty “Dust and Lake” which sounds like it was recorded at an underground lake to “Kiss My Name,” a hip-hop tinged ballad that beckons Kanye West. Hegarty basks in a lost lexicon (lyrical references to “turtledoves”) and the enigma of Old Hollywood, as his songs conjure castles, dark shadows and Hitchcock B&W's.

Two stellar tracks “Another World” (which finds hope in abandonment) and “Epilepsy is dancing” (humorous irony from a newly crowned disco diva), highlight the rich melody that begins with Hegarty’s voice, as he blends within his musical setting like a chameleon, or better yet Marlon Brando. The Crying Light leaves one with an everlasting glow. Hegarty is our generation's greatest singer - that is, if you care for his voice.

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