Antony and the Johnsons
The Crying Light
Label: Secretly Canadian
There is a broken magic to being human, a discrete sadness that radiates from each of us that is personal and untouchable. In The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers so accurately describes the terror we feel when we actually get to the heart of a person. It is an impossible task, to really know another human, and many of us pass an entire lifetime with a wife, father, husband, sister, or child without actually really understanding that person.
The closest I’ve ever come to understanding a musician, from the pain of his lyrics and the quaver of his voice, is Antony Hegarty. On 2005’s I Am a Bird Now, he stopped me dead with a collection of songs that were nakedly yearning and some of the most beautiful music I had ever heard. Four years have passed and though Bird still gets regular play in my house, Antony and the Johnsons have returned with a more subtle and even better album with The Crying Light.
Antony’s album covers have always been arresting and The Crying Light does not disappoint, with the contorted form of butoh legend Kazuo Ohno gracing the front of the disc. Like Antony’s voice, Ohno is famous for twisting his body into shapes that do not seem humanly possible, lighthearted for one moment and grotesque the next. It seems appropriate that Antony should choose such an image, a portrait of art that is so intimate and impossible to penetrate, but clearly expressive at the same time.
Hence, we arrive at The Crying Light, an album of delicate and subtle beauty filled with laughter and tears. Sure, I can spend a page speaking about the virtues of Antony’s amazing voice, how it can change from soft and lilting into a rousing clarion straight from Valhalla. But it’s the songs on The Crying Light that are just so amazing. While Antony relied heavily on guests (Boy George, Devendra Banhart, Lou Reed) and bombast on Bird, The Crying Light is a more intimate, magical affair. The songs take time to unfold, hypnotic blossoms of sonic beauty to beguile, bewilder and ultimately blow the listener away. Be warned, there is no “Fistful of Love” to provide a caffeinated rupture from the theatricality and torch songs and there are no high profile guests. This album is Antony’s coming out. It’s all him.
While Bird seemed to be a personal meditation of being lost in New York City, The Crying Light’s many songs evoke natural imagery: gardens, mountains, glittering sunlight. The album begins with the achingly haunted “Her Eyes Are Beneath the Ground.” “In the garden, with my mother/ I stole a flower/ With my mother, in her power/ I chose a flower/ I saw six eyes glistening in my womb/ I felt you calling me in the gloom/ Rest assured your love is pure,” Antony sings as his piano and a cello swoon together in perfect harmony. It is indicative of most of the record; these songs are spare and intimate.
Next up is “Epilepsy is Dancing.” Though not as immersed in sadness as the first track, it is here that Antony melds the beautiful with grotesque. As he seemingly compares a seizure to dancing, it is impossible not think again of the butoh dancer, curling and flailing in shapes so horrible, yet quite beautiful.
Every song is a standout, from the quiet of “Another World” to the waltz of “Kiss My Name.” The refrain of “Mercy, mercy” on “One Dove” is one of the most heartbreaking things you will ever hear. But, Antony’s finest moment comes in “Daylight and the Sun,” a six and a half minute paean to daylight penetrating not only the trees and mountains, but his own calcified heart. If the Antony of Bird was unsure, this new Antony looks outward, embraces the natural world and has hope.
The Crying Light closes with “Everglade,” a soaring piece that incorporates an orchestra with mournful flute solos and dramatic crescendos. It’s the perfect ending to a perfect album. After its beauty trails off, one thing is certain. You truly know Antony.