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-length, is 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.
Download: "The Spirit Was Gone"
(And tonight's dramatic sky to go along with it.)