Under Review: Antony & The Johnsons – Swanlights

Most bands benefit from a little bit of elusiveness.  That mystery usually manifests itself in a lengthy span of time between album releases.  Though they released a stunning LP just last year, Antony & The Johnsons have returned with another set of arresting compositions, Swanlights.  Hardly a rushed assemblage of Crying Light leftovers, Swanlights is its own entity completely.  That includes the album’s tone and style, which is generally lighter and more optimistic than its predecessor.  Antony begins the set with a wide-eyed decree that “Everything Is New,” and the album only gets better from there.

“Ghost” is the first of a number of highlights; its theatrical dynamism suggesting what Rufus Wainwright’s latest album should’ve sounded like.  The very next track, “I’m In Love,” is one of the loosest to come out of Antony’s captivating songbook.  A floating, repetitive organ line underlies an unusually-phrased melody, with a jazzy rhythm section holding the seeming improvisation together.  The title track employs Antony’s latest musical love: the drone.  Previously used in “Dust And Water” and “Shake That Devil,” here the wall of electric guitar distortion creates a menacing backdrop for Antony’s double vocal line.  What begins as an intimate meditation is eventually augmented by piano and light percussion before concluding with all but Antony and the feedback dropping out.  It’s a strange arrangement, for sure, but Swanlights features a number of moments that serve as more welcome introductions to newcomers.

Like The Crying Light, Swanlights was preceded by an EP featuring a track from the album.  This time around, “Thank You For Your Love” was the featured song, and it’s undoubtedly one of the best additions to Antony’s canon.  Musically, it’s a bright, gospel-y number that grows and blossoms into an all-out declaration of joy.  Emotion has always played a part in Antony’s music, but on much of Swanlights, he comes across as more cheerful than ever.  The delicate “Flétta” pairs Antony with another unique but polarizing voice, Bjork.  The Icelandic ballad features both singers’ voices intertwining, though I could’ve done without Bjork’s distracting intonations.  Guests have played large parts on previous albums (particularly on I Am A Bird Now), but Antony has since become such a recognizable performer that he really doesn’t need anyone’s help anymore.  Closing with its longest song, the climactic “Christina’s Farm,” Swanlights marks yet another breathtaking turn in the career of one of today’s most enchanting artists.

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~ by E. on October 11, 2010.

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