April 2009

Antony and the Johnsons - The Crying Light
Secretly Canadian SC194
Format: CD
Released: 2009

by Bob Strain

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Antony and the Johnsons’ newest work is intimate, spacious, and very personal. Like Edith Piaf or Nina Simone, the singer addresses the listener directly. No one else is present room, just you and Antony. It is an anti-concert.

This is eclectic avant-garde pop, drawing on gospel, soul, cabaret, and other sources to create music of loss and memory, from the most personal ("Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground") to the global ("Another World"). Throughout, Antony displays formidable vocal ability, from the delicate falsettos of "Her Eyes" to a soulful baritone on "Aeon" that is somewhat reminiscent of Otis Redding. "Dust and Water" consists of a stunning mantra, almost a vocalise, set against a minimalist drone.

The orchestration (by Antony, Nico Muhly, Maxim Moston, and Doug Wieselman) is sparse and reinforces the thematic essence of this work -- the loss of the natural world -- with synthetic crickets, wind, birds, and distorted guitars that suggest an artificial existence. The sound quality is consistent, although a saxophone on "One Dove" sounds breathy and subdued for its context.

The overall pacing is slow and deliberate. At times the effect is hypnotic, a suitable homage to the Japanese Butoh dance style. In fact, the CD is dedicated to Kazuo Ohno, an originator of that style, who is portrayed in the cover photograph.