Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It seems like Antony & the Johnsons just released a new album (they did: The Crying Light, 2009) yet we've been graced with another.  Swanlights, their fourth full-lengthis due to drop in October.

It's even more atmospheric than usual, kind of spacey, in fact; less polished than last year's effort, in a good way: a bit unhinged, a bit creepy.  While Crying was cinematic and bountiful, accessible and lush, this one could be the score to a different movie, one perfect for these cool Autumn nights: anxious and melancholy.

The album opens, suitably, with "Everything is New", plucked harp and sparse piano, repeat-lyrics in his typical style.  It opens up into a near-cacophony of varied sounds, warbling between left and right headphones, surrounding the listener in a cloud of tension --

(Pause!  I feel like I should say: These are the things I like about him.  His music (even his voice) is not for everyone, certainly, all flourished-dramatics and cryptic poetics, but if you like it, you like it. Without sounding overly effusive (Who me?), Antony's songs are what I imagine hymns to be to a deeply-religious person.  Full-body.  More than sounds and notes.  Bigtimes.  So give it a shot, but don't feel like you have to join my church.)  

And while the album doesn't feel joyful in the least, it does have some serious momentum.  Driving and percussive, "Ghost" would be a killer live, his alien-voice riding atop the whole loud thing.  And where The Crying Light was meditative, this one feels impulsive and just the slightest bit aggressive.  Like I said: unhinged.

Maybe it's my mood lately, but it feels just right.

A standout is "The Spirit Was Gone", which would have fit beautifully on Crying.  Throughout his catalogue there are obvious moments of his sitting in his own boyhood.  Reflecting upon the formative years that were, I imagine, quite difficult for a future transgendered performance artist, hulking and odd.  Some of his best songs are those that aren't necessarily brainiac allegories about religion or third-century artforms, rather elementary meditations on the simplest subjects, like the planet Earth ("Another World" from The Crying Light) or plain death.

The spirit was gone from her body 
Forever had always been inside
That shell had always been intertwined
And now it is untwined
It's hard to understand

For all his smarty-pants literary references and brilliant musical arrangements, he can also be utterly uncluttered, and, at these times, achingly good.

Swanlights feels a touch off-handed, but he's an on-purpose kind of guy.  So at the end of his seven-minute-finale ("Christina's Farm") he lands on a bright and decidedly major chord, perhaps telling us, though the album has been heavier than his recent work, that he's okay.  In the end we're probably all okay.  

(And tonight's dramatic sky to go along with it.)

There are few places that make my heart skip a beat at the mere thought.  Maybe it's too much Sex & the City or a latent broadway fantasy, but there's really something about New York.  Its grid pattern, satisfying in its arithmetical tidiness, its yellow cabs and endless walkability.  Late-afternoon light playing on the old brickwork, deep shadows at street-level, reaching way up to a bright winter sky above.  It's a city where every angle seems set-dressed, ready for its closeup.

And the Park.  I mean, really.  Almost eight hundred acres preserved forever.  It's like Narnia with its nooks and crannies, its scary bits and its majesty, a fear of getting lost in it quickly assuaged by a desire to be just that.

(January 2006, NYC)

Monday, September 27, 2010

While Los Angeles experiences the hottest day on record, we here in Toronto are steadily sliding into the dim, crisp days of Autumn.  

It seems like mere days ago that we were sunning ourselves at the cottage, tossing back gin and lemonade, BBQing steaks and dunking ourselves in the lake.  How quickly things can change.  Now we've settled into an ample TV schedule, red wine, and socks instead of sandals.  The sticky days of summer are a distant memory, the coolness of a new season suddenly feels welcome, though really just a defense mechanism against a reality over which we have no control. 

And all of this means sweaters and overcoats, root vegetables and soup.  Delicious, hot soup.

Tonight I made rustic chicken noodle.  Chunky.  A soup that requires a knife, just in case.  Full-size carrots and big potatoes, hearty stalks of celery and bunches of thyme and sage, wrapped in twine and tossed into the pot while the flavours work their magic, but plucked before serving.  I cut the last of the local corn from the cob and added lots of fresh ginger.  It was seasonal and robust, simple and unfussy.

Snag some nice bread (I chose onion and rosemary) and some good cheese.  Slice a few pears on the mandolin and layer it up before placing in the pan.  The gruy√®re and brie benefit nicely from the sweetness of the fruit.  And, really, what's soup without a sandwich?   

Rustic Chicken Soup

1 medium white onion, chopped
A good-sized knob of ginger (I obliterated mine into a paste with my microplane)
Several cloves of garlic, minced
4 cups of chicken stock
3 cups of water
Fresh sage, thyme, rosemary, and several bay leaves
12 medium-sized heirloom carrots in various colours
8 small purple potatoes (These make the broth turn purple!)
8 stalks of celery
3 cobs of corn
Salt and pepper
One pre-cooked chicken (You gotta cut corners somewhere.)

In a large oiled pot, soften onions, garlic, and minced ginger.  Smell it.  Love it.  Prepare your carrots and potatoes by chopping loosely.  Leave your carrots large and intact, but perhaps chop them in half lengthwise.  Cut the corn off the cobs and prepare your celery.

Add the stock and water to the onions/garlic/ginger.  Add the herbs and allow to simmer away for a moment or two.   Add the carrots and potatoes and bring to a boil for a few minutes.  When they've softened a bit, add the corn, celery and the chicken you've pulled from the bones.  Toss in a cup or two of any small pasta you enjoy (I used adorable little O's!) Lower the heat and let the flavours meld for a while, until all the components have cooked. Toss in a handful of fresh-chopped parsley before serving.  

Enjoy this big soup, all its bits and pieces poking up out of the bowl.  Your spoon should carve through most of it, but keep the knives handy.  It really eats like a meal, takes more time than the average, you might even call it a stew.  

But by any name, it feels like Fall.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hannah and Brady aren’t the marrying kind.  Well, they weren’t supposed to be.  Brady’s been married once before, which, in the end made him even less the marrying kind, and Hannah, she’s a free spirit, a girl-about-town, as independent and headstrong as they come.  To see their relationship flourish over the past few years has been especially special.  Perfectly becoming of one another, so well-suited, it turns out that marriage looks very good on them. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and I know I’m the marrying kind. I come from a long line of married people, for better or worse. My grandparents and my grandparents’ parents, 50 or 60 years of ‘til death do they part. My own parents have been together since my Mom was 14 years old, in good times and in those decidedly less-so.  You could say I have marriage in my bones.

I respect the institution, the legality and formality of it. But mostly it's the creation of one’s own family, the choice, that really gets me weepy.  Deciding to bond yourself to someone is about as serious a choice as we can make as human beings. And not by way of a shared bank account or a mortgage payment, but by declaring love and togetherness, choosing to share a name, perhaps, or raise children, to build a life in such a distinctly purposeful way.  

But I’m of a generation of non-traditionalists. We make our own way, forge new paths, forgo history and romanticism for independence and pragmatism. We don’t need the paperwork, or to be recognized by our lawmakers or accepted by pesky American Republicans.  But we do.  I do.  If only because a wedding photo of my grandma makes my eyes water, a guttural response over which I have no control.  And in 2005 when my government told me I could, I knew that someday I certainly would.  

I've felt my pendulum swinging back towards the sweet traditions of my ancestors for the past while.  There's something about raising chickens and loving newel posts and devoting yourself to someone forever.  Simple things.  Quiet things.  A return to the bits that really matter.

We're a generation who can have both parts: the fiery independence and the beautiful obligation. 

And so it was, at the swanky Thompson Hotel, that a group of sassy bitches got made-up and done-up and boozed-up on morning mimosas.  Where we danced and laughed and took pretty photos.  Where the imminent ceremony of love and contract wouldn't define a girl, but rather fill her up.  With a weave on her head and a kick in her step she'd walk three city blocks on her father's arm to stand before her man, a woman fully-realized, not sectioned in half, but rather doubled or tripled, expanded in every way.  This is Hannah getting married.

(Comment on this entry, but see the extended story here.)