Saturday, October 23, 2010

Antony & the Johnsons' "Swanlights"

Antony Hegarty is, of course, the expat Englishman with the freakishly beautiful voice who first entered my consciousness touring with Lou Reed in 2003, in which capacity he occupied the role previously fulfilled by Doug Yule in the Velvet Underground, e.g., singing all the songs where it was important to hit the right notes. By that time, he already had a couple of albums out under the Antony & the Johnsons rubric, but the first one I heard was 2008's The Crying Light, which featured his unique vocalismo -- both powerful and fragile -- in relatively conventional pop song settings.

Swanlights, however, is Something Entahrly Other. It washes over you in waves of multi-layered beauty like a healing bath of melody, the accompaniment both simple and elegant, even when it employs orchestras. With the exception of "Thank You For Your Love," which hits like an old Al Green side, down to the backing horns, the musical settings are like tone poems, with Antony's voice as the central instrument.

This reminds me of nothing more than my sweetie's Jussi Bjoerling opera records, and she points out that when Antony and Bjork harmonize on "Fletta" (Icelandice sure is one harsh sounding language, methinks), they sound the way sisters do when they sing together -- there's something similar in their vocal qualities. She also noted that his multitracked vocal on "Swanlights" sounds like a secular Gregorian chant, while "Christina's Farm" sounds like a hymn. To these feedback-scorched ears, Swanlights sounds more like an adult version of Brian Wilson's "teenage symphonies to God" -- one grounded in experience, not innocence.


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