By Danica Li
Monday, January 26, 2009
Category: Arts & Entertainment > Music > CD Reviews
At first glance, the album cover of The Crying Light appears to feature a desiccated skeleton with clawed hands, vampiric canines and sightlessly staring eyes. The skeleton is the source of Antony Hegarty's love and inspiration, a famous intersexual Japanese butoh dancer, Kazuo Ohno, to whom the singer attributes his own growth as an unabashedly queer artist. After 2005's I Am a Bird Now fetched Hegarty's achy, tear-stained serenades the prestigious Mercury Prize and 20,000 pounds of pocket money to boot, the singer has indulged in a variety of collaborations. But none have risen to the realm of tortured, symphonic romanticism that he's consistently attained with the Johnsons.
Regardless of the lyrical content, Hegarty's voice is the sound of a man quietly derailing. Like the cover, Hegarty's songwriting veers frequently toward darkness. Repeated and grotesque invitations to "cut [him] into quadrants" urge the obvious comparison to past records, where implications about self-mutilation ran the gamut from cutting off one's digits to breast amputation. First single "Another World" mourns the impending loss of the world as we know it around a down-key piano medley, while "Daylight and the Sun" laments the absence of its title subject to a swelling, hoarsely cacophonous string section. Do we detect a running trend? Common here are classical composer Nico Muhly's swooning, orchestral arrangements-vibrations transmuted through wood and wire into the magnificent, gold-spangled stuff of romance and tragedy. Wretched and wrenching, Hegarty's voice takes the foreground and distorts a petite 39-minute record into a seemingly lengthy, difficult listen-one that nevertheless has its share of operatic peaks and elated, cathartic releases. Safe to say, then, that emotionally wringing will always be Antony and the Johnsons' calling card.
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