Album Review Antony And The Johnsons - Swanlights

It cuts deep, but velvety like. It’s such beautiful agony.

Antony is one of those musicians you just don’t want to see a change in. You can’t deny, taking a long, hard listen to his back-catalogue, that every album pretty much sounds the same. But this ‘same’ is not to be taken the same way the Oxford dictionary would want us to take it. To make myself clear, Antony’s ‘same’, is our ‘trademark’. Our “just right”. You wouldn’t want him to be any other way. You can’t really see him winning his 2005 Mercury all over again, but it’s pretty clear his well-deserved recognition and praise won’t fade away. It’s justified. It’s done.

For Antony’s voice is an instrument in itself. It is its own star. To hear him hit all those notes that seem so unreachable, so tough, so painful… well it only makes it hard. It makes it hard to listen to; ‘cause there’s some pain, there’s some effort behind it all. But at the same time it seems so effortless. Funny, this music, this artist makes me muddle my words, confuses me. It cuts deep, but velvety like. It’s such beautiful agony.

This review is not going to be a track-by-track piece a la Quietus. I guess this review is going to be and is much more led by primitive feeling. It has got to be said, up front and honest, that Antony must be recognised first and foremost for being the only current worthwhile vocalist of the 21st century. Many will think I take this éloge too far, but just play ‘Hope There’s Someone’ to your mom and see if she doesn’t cry. Yeah, that’s right, he really moves people. Purchasing an Antony & the Johnsons record is like buying a ticket to the most wonderful and heartbreaking opera you could imagine. Each and every one of his releases succeeds in drawing emotion; tears, smiles… and that’s only on the obvious front.

‘Swanlights’, it has got to be pointed out, is most definitely not a swan song. At least I hope not. Antony Hegarty has consistently, over the past decade, provided the music-loving public with a sonically open book. Or at least it seems that way. Whether or not the previous is a completely accurate statement, it feels as though every one of his albums is a direct link from his heart to your ear. Corny, perhaps, but undeniable. Hegarty’s emotion is so very present in every chord, in every change in tune, in every lyric. From the optmistic opener, ‘Everything Is New’, to the dark title track, ‘Swanlights’, this fourth outing exhibits perfectly the ups and downs of Antony’s music. Of his emotions…? There’s no ‘Shake That Devil’ on this record; the happier songs don’t reach those heights. This time around, the merrier tunes seem almost superficial; lucky they’re sparse.

‘Swanlights’ doesn’t sound as though it’s looking to really connect with the listener. If it does so, it feels almost unintentional. Is Hegarty branching out? This time around, could he be throwing caution to the wind in favour of musical experimentation (see aforementioned title track)? If so, he does it well. So well, that even unwillingly, the listener becomes so involved it’s hard to remain objective.

After all, it’s always hard to stay objective with an Antony & the Johnsons record. The narrative always seems outward reaching, the voice so vulnerable… like a desperate friend. I could even go as far as saying family member. It’s all so familiar, so intimate. You don’t want to be left out in the cold. Neither does Antony, it would appear.

There’s a french verb, décortiquer, which fits just right here with what I wanna say. The literal translation, I guess, would be ‘to shell’ but it doesn’t ring right. It doesn’t even come close to what the favoured word looks to say. Trying to décortique this album is really tough. Antony’s voice and his accompanying delicate piano are but just two elements of the most affective, to the truest sense of the word, album of the year. Björk’s cameo on ‘Flétta’… well it seems even weird calling it a cameo; it feels more like an anonymous guest vocal. Such is Antony’s force. Trying to ‘shell’ this album is pointless. It’s all that is to be expected of an Antony & the Johnsons record: it sounds like every other, but, and I mean this in the best way, like every other album, ‘Swanlights’ hits you deep deep down, making you wanna hole up in your room and think of Antony. Think of him, ‘cause with this quality of music, he’s sure as hell thinking of you.


Tags: Anohni, Album Reviews, Reviews

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