June 14, 2008

Antony and the Johnsons - I Am A Bird Now

Artist:Antony and the Johnsons
Album: I Am A Bird Now
Genre:Indie Pop, Art Rock, Avantgarde
Country:United States

I Am a Bird Now is the critically-acclaimed second album by New York City band Antony and the Johnsons. It was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize on July 19, 2005 and was announced as the eventual winner on September 6, 2005. After winning the prize, the album shot up the UK albums chart from #135 to #16 in one week, the biggest jump in the history of the Mercury Music Prize. A few weeks later, the album went back up the charts at #5.
"The album features guest appearances by Rufus Wainwright ("What Can I Do?") and Devendra Banhart, and by lead singer Antony Hegarty's childhood heroes Boy George and Lou Reed. The cover is a photograph by Peter Hujar of Warhol superstar Candy Darling on her deathbed.

I'm completely overwhelmed by this record. I Am a Bird Now is beyond any semi-confectionary aesthetic distance that you might bring to discussing your average album. This music grabs a hold of you and doesn't let go. It feels timeless and gorgeous and bigger than life. It may not be "soul" in the strict, music appreciation 101 sense, but it could make even the most jaded atheist approach a metaphysical regard. It is assured, seering and majestic SOUL to the utmost. I'd put on my critic's cap and dive into scrutiny, but I am too enraptured by this artist's music.

For some reason my CD of I Am a Bird Now is skipping and every skip is like a dagger in the heart. The pure unadulterated emotion on display decries such tedious interruptions. I never thought I could appreciate Boy George till I heard him singing with Antony on the impossibly touching "You Are My Sister." And there is no point in dwelling on the gender bending (I didn't even want to acknowledge it, to tell you the truth) aspects of the artist because his songs are so 'universally' moving. Whereas Antony and The Johnsons was a stark, chilling affair that was arresting and perhaps a little disconcerting, this album is a shining beacon of hope and healing amidst ceaseless pangs of heartache and loss. The gospel-tinged "Fistful of Love" brings in a horn section and Lou Reed for a particularly uplifting experience that bridges the middle of the album splendidly.

I have to see Antony perform these songs. It's not a question of the recorded material not being enough, but I could see the breathtaking sweep of these songs taking on a whole new power in a live setting. I'm reminded of the scene in Mulholland Dr. where the two principal characters are in the theater listening to Rebecca Del Rio's heart-rending solo version of Roy Orbisons "Crying." I love this scene so much; how incredibly heavy it feels. I understood completely why they cried, and probably did a little myself. What's interesting is the one thing that kept the whole thing from utter hokeyness was that the song was sung in Spanish.

In this sense, I Am a Bird Now is authentic and moving because it hits you in ways that are both recognizable and foreign. Like Nina Simone, Antony has this uncanny ability to take your standard blues progression and give it authority that skips whatever reservations and preconceptions the audience might lean toward and aims directly for their empathy and, ultimately, their belief in the innate, transcendent force music can contain."(tinymixtapes.com)


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