Antony & The Johnsons

The Crying Light

The Crying Light, the third studio album by Antony & The Johnsons, arrives at an interesting moment in time. With the entire music press aflame with praise for the loose, expansive sound of Animal Collective’s new record and the news media dominated by positive feeling generated by the arrival of a new US president, it’s remarkably hard to detach from pop obsession and BBC News 24 and take a moment’s pause for this intensely reflective, inward-looking album.

There have been times when I couldn’t stomach a second of a band that I later came to love, and others when cherished albums seemed to turn to dust in my hands as the connection to the music evaporated. But this is as it should be; an emotional response to music is personal, and largely dependent on the listener. And in January 2009, when it feels easy to be swept up in the effervescent energy of a new year and a possible new political era, this album implicitly asks for an emotional engagement that feels distinctly out of step.

That said, The Crying Light is a musically accomplished record, taking in piano balladry, jazz elements, chamber ensemble arrangements and a dramatic narrative. Antony’s soulful voice drips pathos, and the sparse instrumentation is slick, serpentine and persuasive. ‘Her Eyes Are Underneath The Ground’ is a heartbroken torch song that groans under the weight of its grief-stricken verse, lapsing into an orchestral reverie. The muted rainy-day piano on ‘Another World’ perfectly matches the funereal lyrics. ‘One Dove’ is a devastating tale of loss, loneliness and alienation with a swooning alto-sax line underpinning the desperate narrative.

On album highlight ‘Aeon’, Antony’s voice momentarily rises to a shout over the squalling drone of strings and the insistent guitar line. It’s an exciting, cathartic swerve in which Hegarty’s heavy feet leave the ground, and we are allowed a look behind the ornate sadness that frames his music.

If it’s possible to be harrowingly hopeful, this is the album to prove it – this bleak emotional landscape is made manageable by the empathy and humanism revealed through its exploration. Antony Hegarty’s songs are, as ever, keening with sadness and eternal estrangement, an invitation to the listener to step into his world. How you feel about The Crying Light will depend on how willing you are to accept.

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