September 10, 2005

Antony and the Johnsons: Mercury Prize Album

Antony Hegarty of New York based band, Antony & the Johnsons, accepted the Mercury Prize for best album of the year this past Tuesday. This decision started a small controversy as 34 year-old Chichester born Hegarty has lived most of his life in the US. Although in comparision to the other nominees, Bloc Party - Silent Alarm, Coldplay - X&Y, The Go! Team - Thunder, Lightning, Strike, Hard-Fi - Stars of CCTV
Kaiser Chiefs - Employment, KT Tunstall - Eye to the Telescope, The Magic Numbers - The Magic Numbers, Maximo Park - A Certain Trigger, MIA - Arular, Polar Bear - Held on the Tips of Fingers, and Seth Lakeman - Kitty Jay Did, Antony's music and voice stand head and shoulders above this group.

Antony's music is arresting, his voice flutters against the air like a bird searching for dry land. And like a bird constantly fighting to stay aloft, Antony is constantly fighting against the body he finds himself in and it is this inner battle combined with his striking emotional vocals which gives his better songs the sobriquet, 'unforgettable'.

Below is my review of I Am A Bird Now.

The album and more can be downloaded by eMusic members, or through their Free Trial offer available here.

PHOTO by Svenson Linnert.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

*Sixeyes Review: I Am A Bird Now
[secretly canadian - 2005]

The definition of androgynous is -- "...not clearly male or female", and this description can also be applied to music, although it may sound feminine or masculine, it's the listener who gives it it's gender. Perhaps I should say music is sexless, but sexy. That can be said about most music, especially the strangely compelling new work, I Am A Bird Now (secretly canadian), by Antony and the Johnsons. Antony does possess an androgynous look which is played up by make-up and clothing, he also possesses a startling voice; one which sweeps and swoops with his at-times-theatrical music. The vocals waver and tremble, as if on the edge of tears -- his prononced vibrato may claim comparisions to Bryan Ferry, although Antony's voice is much more open and raw; and yes there is an androgynous aspect, without knowing the artist you may wonder if it is a man or a woman. Although he does not own an instrument as transcendentally crystalline as Jeff Buckley's, he can at times produce in the listener the same response. Both artist's voices being blessed with the power to translate the emotion of the lyric into an emotion in the listener.

I Am A Bird Now
(cover shot of Candy Darling, 1974)

Ten tracks strong, I Am A Bird Now, is justly titled as Antony warbles like a wounded songbird on the opener, "Hope There's Someone". In fact he comes across like a rare beautiful bird on all ten -- that brightly coloured, sleekly feathered, just out of reach creature, sending it's sadly burnished song into the open sky. Songs that standout include "My Lady Story", (one of several that touch on gender identification) coloured blue by flute and simple, but elegant, backing vocal work; "Fistfull of Love", boasting a Lou Reed spoken-word intro, blossoms into a gospel meltdown with horn punches and stand up and testify emotion. Closing the disc is "Bird Guhl", the most beautiful number on the album. A powerful melody that matches the passion of Antony's lyric, "Cause I'm a Bird Guhl (pronounced Bird Girl)/ and the Bird Guhls go to heaven/ cause I'm a Bird Guhl /and the Bird Guhls can fly". It would be easy for many of these songs to be overdone, to be dressed up in sickly sweet strings and over wrought emotion; luckily Antony's taste matches his talent.

There is a spiritual element to the sound of Antony's music -- music which worships piano cabaret ballads, string laden chamber pop, and gospel-fired soul -- gospel heard in a church that will soon find new parishioners, I am sure.

He is a bird now... it's hard to imagine him as anything else.

+ fistfull of love download courtesy

+ hope there's someone

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