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Antony and the Johnsons will release their new album, "Swanlights", on October 12th in the US via Secretly Canadian. Abrams Image will simultaneously release a special edition of "Swanlights" which will include the CD inside a 144-page art book containing Antony's paintings, collages, photography and writing. The album only version of "Swanlights" on Secretly Canadian will also include the song "Flétta", a duet with Bjork. The album and book are a continuation of Antony's work exploring environmental issues and his connection to the natural world.
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Antony is a brilliant artist with a wholly unique voice, an unassailable persona, and with acceptance in an international art world that works across platforms -- meaning Antony winds up collaborating with the likes of Nico Muhly, one of the leading young composers of the postmodern avant garde, and Bjork; he's also collaborated with Laurie Anderson (although not on this CD). Antony, this creature of the winds of cultural change, can't lose, and why should s/he? If indeed there is a paradigmatic shift underway, Antony could be seen as the drum majorette at the head of the swarm -- a key to our evolution as a band of brothers and sisters.
As for the music in "Swanlights", it oscillates from moments of haunting genius, with all its depth and mystery in shimmering evidence, particularly in the piece "Swanlights" itself. It's just perfect. Not every piece is loaded with this much luminosity and so what is less than perfect, can seem a trifle disappointing, but the disappointment doesn't last. As a listener and a thinker, you want to be on a very high level of alertness when engaging with this CD, just so you don't miss any nuance.
Having Antony come down to earth -- or should I say, come down to the underworld -- and sing about death in the most poignant, plaintiff way in "The Spirit Was Gone", is a necessary heartbreaking antidote to the illusion of transcendence. There are many moods between these two particular songs -- "Swanlights" and "The Spirit Was Gone"-- and if you're a fan of Antony, you'll find catharsis somewhere in between these two musical catalytic converters. The last song loops you back to the beginning in one ghostly arc of longing, so let yourself go, let yourself long for the unattainable...
2009's "The Crying Light" was a bit of a rude awakening for me, then. Many people praise that album as either equal or superior to "I am a Bird Now," but I see it as stiff and stuffy, a forced and awkward continuation of familiar themes; a parody of his former glory. It had a few moments of true beauty, but largely it seemed as if Antony was trading the fire of his art for a status as a "mature" artist.
When the single "Thank You for Your Love" was recently released, I felt as if my fears for Antony's fate were sealed. Here was more uninspired mimicry of his older songs: in this case, a more than passing resemblance to the far superior "Fistful of Love," as well as VU's "Candy Says" (which Antony has covered).
I am happy to say, then, that the album "Swanlights" is not well represented by its lead single. While not as daring as I'd like it to be, this new album makes Antony sound fresh again, and thank goodness for that.
Spacious, serene, mysterious, and boasting a wide vocal range--even dipping into the major key! Antony is singing out to the back row once again, something he hasn't done since his eponymous debut. And this one feels very cohesive, even though it's actually quite erratic.
Here's a breakdown of the tracks:
1) Everything is New: A fantastic opener. It's no Hope There is Someone, but thankfully it's not trying to be. Both meditative and explosive, it really sets the tone for the rest of the album.
2) The Great White Ocean: This could be better. I think it really would have sounded great with some more emphasis on drones and ethereality, but instead we get a baroque minstrel-type feel with a cheesy guitar that sounds like it came from The Princess Bride.
3) Ghost: Has the feel of late 60's Scott Walker, a gorgeous mix of light and dark tones. Love it!
4) I'm In Love: This is a strange one. It's peppy and soulful, but the arrangement is hypnotic, and a bit sinister. Quite the ear worm.
5) Violetta: A brief instrumental. Not much on its own, but it provides some punctuation to the album.
6) Swanlights: Psychedelic and very eerie. I wish he would have played around with other songs on the album as he does here (especially track 2).
7) The Spirit Was Gone: A good track. Kind of a meditative tone poem, like the opener. Brief and opaque, but the melody does sound a lot like "You Never Give Me Your Money" by the Beatles.
8) Thank You For Your Love: As a single, this was disappointing. Now that I know that this sound doesn't reflect the rest of the album, though, it's okay to listen to. It's derivative and overly simplistic, but it is nice to hear Antony sounding so joyous at the end.
9) Fletta: A duet with with Bjork. Quirky yet pretty. Lovable and mystical.
10) Salt Silver Oxygen: The lyrics are quite odd, but this track grew on me. It's like a weirder, slightly darker cousin of Ghost. Or like "The Crying Light"'s Everglade redone in the style of his debut album.
11) Christina's Farm: A nice closer. Brings back themes from the first song, but with some added levity and sobriety. Almost like the moment of waking from the dream of the previous tracks.
I'm still hoping that Antony pushes his art further than what he's doing here (is he afraid of drum machines?), but "Swanlights" offers a unique world of sounds and feelings that is a pleasure to inhabit.
I've missed you, friend. It's been too long.
I would recommend the CD and certainly the artist. Still love to see a concert of his....his music is masterful!
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