Monday, September 20, 2010

Swanlights, Antony & the Johnsons

I have been a fan of all releases from Antony & the Johnsons. Their full length albums (The Crying Light, I Am A Bird Now, and their S/T album) are beautifully exhausting. Their EPs (Another World, I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy, The Lake, and Thank You For Your Love) are classic and quirky. Even their singles (Aeon, You Are My Sister, Hope There's Someone) are filled with amazing B-sides.

This is a band, and a lead singer, of great talent. I saw them in concert on tour with The Crying Light. The experience was many things: mysterious, theatrical, breathtaking, emotional, relaxing. Antony has even joined forces with pop-disco band, Hercules and the Love Affair. Again, very successful. On Bjork's Volta, Antony performed backing vocals and harmony.

Basically, I have to start this review out in complete praise of Antony & the Johnsons because I am not going to heap these same praises on their latest release, Swanlights. I must confess, I have not seen the art book which accompanies this release. It is possible I will change my mind once I flip through these pages and listen to the album. The album cover suggests a ready-made, Dada-esque quality. Something I thought may be experimented with throughout the album. Instead, Swanlights is truly minimal. Antony's voice is more restrained. The music, orchestration isn't as grand as previous albums. In fact, the first half of the album just kind of falls away.

Swanlights feels a little like a Bjork album in its experimental nature. I don't want to suggest it is as "out there" as Medulla. There is certainly a lot more restraint taking place on this album than on Medulla. The album doesn't have such extremes and discomforts. As I said, this is a pretty quiet album. And, calling an album quiet, in comparison to other Antony releases, means a very quiet album.

Not until the title track does the album start to pick up. 'Swanlights' is the most beautiful track on the album. The following track 'The Spirit Was Gone' isn't too bad, either. These two songs really compliment one another. They are followed by the out of place 'Thank You For Your Love.' This is a very solid song. A perfect single from their EP early this year. In fact, this track seems like a left over from I Am A Bird Now.

Suddenly, the Bjork feeling makes sense. 'Fletta' arrives like a breath of fresh air. Bjork on vocals. Antony does a tiny bit of background vocals. The song is beautiful. Makes me crave a new Bjork release. But, should I be listening to one artist while demanding something new from another?

'Salt Silver Oxygen' is a unique little song. I would say it stands out from most songs on this release. There is a bit of patter to the song. A very fast bounce to some of the lyrics that reminds me, a tiny bit, of Gilbert and Sullivan... something from The Mikado. The album ends with 'Christina's Farm.' This song is very much left over from The Crying Light. It is a beautiful, emotional track. A great way to end an album.

I am not suggesting this is a bad album. Or, a boring album. Antony & the Johnsons are creating a different type of music. Always slightly tweaking, playing with their sound. It can't always come out like gold. And, because Antony & the Johnsons are such a unique band... I can't really compare them to other bands. I have to critique them based on their previous releases. I can only hold them up to what they've already handed out.


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