The black-and-white image of legendary Butoh dancer Kazuo Ohno that adorns the cover of The Crying Light, the third full-length by Antony and the Johnsons, seems to offer a view of a being enveloped in both ecstasy and agony – or does it? The songs contained here offer something else: a glimpse of a universe beyond the pale of vision, seen only by the individual experiencing it. Antony Hegarty recorded and considered 25 songs for inclusion on The Crying Light, before settling on ten. The Johnsons are the inimitable cellist Julia Kent, Thomas Bartlett, Maxim Moston, Rob Moose, Jeff Langston, Parker Kindred, Doug Wieselman, and Will Holshouser. The additional orchestra includes Greg Cohen, Suzy Perelman, Tim Albright, and Lisa Albrecht, to name a few.
Antony Hegarty has no apparent interest in being an ordinary pop star, and it stands to reason he wouldn't be interested in making an ordinary live album, either. In 2006, Hegarty collaborated with artist and filmmaker Charles Atlas on a performance piece called Turning, in which Atlas created carefully detourned video projections of a handful of women ("beauties," as they were identified by Hegarty and Atlas) whose difficult life experiences often belied their appearance, while Hegarty's band Antony and the Johnsons performed a set of their powerfully emotional and atmospheric songs. Atlas directed a documentary about the tour, also called Turning, while Antony and the Johnsons have released a soundtrack album that documents the London date on the tour.
Swanlights, the fourth full-length by Antony and the Johnsons, reveals that 2009's The Crying Light was a stepping stone that furthered his sophistication as a songwriter, arranger, and singer. While that album's tunes about acceptance, death, transformation, and loss were added to immeasurably by Nico Muhly's gorgeous string arrangements, Swanlights employs the same band, this time augmented by a chamber orchestra. Antony Hegarty uses his voice on this set as much as a textural element in his songs as he does to deliver his poetic, and sometimes head-scratchingly obtuse lyrics, like "Elect the salt mother, for she is a selective Christ." These songs engage with popular genres from folk-rock to grand classical chamber orchestral, but they do touch on vanguard art song as well.
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Antony And The Johnsons
May 1, 2000 - UK CD Durtro 050
August 16, 2004 - US CD Secretly Canadian SC104
Antony and the Johnsons present chamber cabaret in darkest blue, creating music that is highly dramatic, emotional, and lyrical. Compared to everyone from Nina Simone to Lotte Lenya, Antony's voice is hauntingly evocative. The Johnsons, an ensemble featuring a string trio, piano, bass and drums, lay a foundation of lush yet minimal orchestral arrangements. Antony & the Johnsons is a reissue of the group's debut album, which was originally released in 1998 on the London-based label Durtro, which is run by David Tibet of Current 93. It
was followed by the EP I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy EP, which includes a cover of David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti's "Mysteries of Love."
Having first presented his songs in after-hours cabarets at the Pyramid Club in NYC, Antony assembled the Johnsons and produced his first concerts at The Kitchen and Knitting Factory in NYC.The past few years have found Antony & the Johnsons making a name for themselves playing a series of concerts at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater and the Knitting Factory in New York City. In the past year, Antony and the Johnsons have also
performed at The Bloomsbury theater in London with Current 93, at Central Park SummerStage with Bebel Gilberto, at the Nancy Jazz Festival in France with French composer Yann Tiersen, at Town Hall in NYC with Rufus Wainwright, at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, at the Wexner Center in Columbus OH, at Royce Hall, UCLA for producer Hal Willner, and in Milan and Naples with Tramontano Arts.
"I'm sure by now you've heard the hype surrounding this growing legend. He was picked up by David Tibet of Current 93 to be on the Durtro label after Tibet listened to this album. Antony's lyrics and vocals are some of the most soul-clenching and amazingly powerful sounds around today by far. His piano work is splendid. The Johnsons band consists of drums, harp, bass, two violins, cello, flute, two clarinets, sax, and "guitar effects." Fans of vocal performaers strong enough to slice through your heart and leave your lungs without air should definitely seek this out. The sound is almost reminiscent of old show tunes about broken hearts, but instead with an effeminate male singing. His lyrics tell of pain and can be percieved as melodramatic on the same level that Current 93 can be, but at the same time leave you listening to this disc repeatedly. "Cripple and the Starfish," from the split-single with Current 93 is only one of quite a few stand out tracks on this album. I have yet to see his performance live, but word is that listening to it from a CD is not a tenth of the power felt while experiencing it live. I look forward to seeing his last show in the current New York series on May 30th". - Daniel McKernan