Review Summary: Antony Hegarty is an angel sent from heaven to deliver Mercury Prize-winning albums unto us.
It takes me a long time to listen to new albums, and I can only remember one time where I've regretted it. Antony And The Johnsons's The Crying Light came out in 2009, but I didn't bother listening to it until a few months into 2010. I regretted it not because it wasn't on my 2009 year-end list when it should have been, but because it seemed like just the sort of album I'd been missing. It was full of beautiful, fluttering chamber pop that I couldn't seem to grasp, so I kept listening. The music was ethereal - ice melting to water and then turning to steam over and over again. I still can't really get a hold on the vocal flourishes, the lilting piano, the ululating melodies, but if there's ever been a record to close your eyes and drift off to, it's The Crying Light.
The preceding album, I Am A Bird Now, was very similar, and the release of Swanlights so soon after The Crying Light leads me to believe that Antony Hegarty is truly an inspired individual. Fanboys of certain bands will sometimes say things along the lines of, "This band could record themselves taking a shi
t and I'd think it was a classic," but Hegarty's got the kind of voice that makes such claims seem almost plausible. But it's not just his voice that makes the music so good; it's his penchant for writing songs that rise and fall with inhuman dexterity, with incredible precision. Even so, the songs don't seem planned. Take "Fletta," from this album, for example. Here, Antony sings a duet in Icelandic with the always resplendent Bjork. The vocals and Antony's piano don't seem to follow any pattern other than that which is dictated by some unseen guide known only to Antony and Bjork, whose voices weave inexplicably around each other. And while there isn't much else going on in the track except for vocals and piano, it is utterly mesmerizing and interesting, especially when the tempo speeds up without warning. As far as immaculate duets go, you couldn't ask for a more mystical pair than Antony and Bjork.
Antony's music is the sort where I don't really pay attention to which song is playing. This is chamber pop in which you actually feel like you're in the center of a large chamber, the music coming from the walls, the floor, the ceiling, and somewhere deeper too, somewhere inside you. Aside from "Fletta," closer "Christina's Farm" is the album's best song, the closest someone like Antony could come to an anthem, although there is no change in volume or pace or anything really. But there is a subtle pulling-out of all the stops when more and more instruments insinuate themselves into the song, not an opening of floodgates, but a sluice gate - a controlled release in which Antony skillfully orchestrates the beauty and tension as he sings, "Everything is new, every sock and shoe, my face and your face, tenderly renewed." A song such as this almost warrants the use of "divinely inspired" as a descriptor. But that, of course, would be selling Antony short. If I have written much about music's mysterious qualities - where it comes from, how it speaks to us - then I must also say that there are certain figures who have a grasp on those qualities, who know how to direct and channel them into songs that are somehow all at once unexplainable and, in a rush of graceful beauty, explained.