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Album review: Antony and the Johnsons' 'The Crying Light'

January 20, 2009 |  3:10 pm

Antony_johnsons240_ Nature versus nurture: The eternal dichotomy haunts Antony Hegarty, the milky-voiced star of post-millennial art song. His transgendered image and aggressively beautiful music force a confrontation with the very idea of the natural. On "The Crying Light," the follow-up to the internationally acclaimed 2005 release "I Am a Bird Now," Antony and his chamber ensemble take the organic world as a subject, decrying humanity's violence against the goddess Gaia while celebrating the bond between the wordless, magical Earth and its many strange mutations -- especially the artist himself.

From the opening track, which suggests one of William Blake's poems reinterpreted by a coloratura Snow White, through songs that challenge fears of disease ("Epilepsy Is Dancing"), birth, death, erotic ecstasy and even the apocalypse (the stately lament "Another World," also the title track of a 2008 EP), Antony follows in the Romantic tradition of celebrating nature as a psychic salve. The songs, set in tastefully fecund arrangements by composer Nico Muhly, relate the singer's evolving consciousness to the planet's life cycle.

It's the most personal environmentalist statement possible, making an unforeseen connection between queer culture's identity politics and the green movement. As music, it's simply exquisite -- more controlled and considered than anything Antony and the Johnsons have done and sure to linger in the minds of listeners for more than a season.

--Ann Powers

Antony and the Johnsons 
The Crying Light"
Secretly Canadian
**** (Four stars)