Antony Hegarty inspires a surprising amount of dislike. Well, alright, it’s not that surprising: with a voice somewhere between Nina Simone and Rufus Wainwright, and an aesthetic that inspires some alarm in more conservative music-listeners, he’s hardly mainstream entertainment. However, what has always attracted me to his work is the combination of grim terror at mortality and beautiful melodrama that invades every minute of it. Back in 2005 I thought they were spot-on to award him the Mercury Prize for I Am A Bird Now; only last year I thought he was the star performer on Hercules And Love Affair, lending his soaring tones to a selection of the year’s finest dance tracks. Interestingly, removed from his usual environment of sombre piano and fluttering orchestral arrangements, Antony sounded far more assertive; more of a diva, and it suited him rather well. It’s not his fault he was born to contemplate man’s fragile existence on earth, and on H&LA the extent of his invigoration imbibes the songs with an alluring mix of hedonistic abandon and tragic nostalgia, particularly on the highlight, “Blind”.
And now, at last, he’s back with his regular troupe Antony and the Johnsons, with this year’s The Crying Light. Regrettably, I’ve yet to hear the album from start to finish – you only come to this blog for quality music journalism! – but the two tracks I have heard do indeed push his voice into uncharted musical territory, which is refreshing and wonderful. The video above is of the album’s lead single, “Epilepsy Is Dancing”. As Alexis Petridis noted in his review of the album, the song
doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs on paper, and indeed, it’s not exactly a barrel of laughs on record
but I would add that it has a charming folksy lilt to it, with light jazz guitar, feathery strings, an almost-invisible oboe, and surprisingly sweet piano. Though the chorus sees Antony singing
Cut me in quadrants
Leave me in the corner
which initially sounds rather chilling, he continues
Oh now it’s passing
Oh now I’m dancing
which suggests an uplifting caveat to what is an otherwise typically grim subject. Indeed, I would not hesitate to alight upon another central aspect of Hegarty’s work: rather than playing up to the victimised portrayal of gender confused artists, he has empowered a lot of people to stand up for their sexuality by singing about tough subjects in a resolved manner. His songs continually reference cases of extreme sadness and tragedy, but he is never prepared to lie down without a fight; always determined to look for the quirky joy that his life brings.
The second song I’ve heard, “Aeon”, sees Hegarty singing about love over delightfully Lou Reed-esque guitar arpeggios. It sounds a bit like “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down”, but for a man, instead of a city. A lot of critics have mentioned the rather ostentatious climax of the song, which sees Antony literally screaming
Hold that man I love SO MUCH!
but I must confess that I rather like it.
IN OTHER NEWS
- Pitchfork gave Tonight: Franz Ferdinand a respectable score of 7.3, but it’s the words in the review to which you’ll want to divert your eyes. The reviewer is mightily impressed by what he sees as the band’s evolutionary stage, where they have explored a range of genres and styles, with equal aplomb. I can’t wait for Amazon to deliver me the goods.
- I got into Spoon far too late, but if you want a gem of a song that is practically perfect, check out “Don’t You Evah”, which is their cover version of an unheard-of band’s song, and which appears on their 2007 album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. It’s ace, and it features some humorous dialogue between singer Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno at the beginning, as they sit in the studio laying down the tracks. The melody; the vocals; the drums – it’s all there. I just wish it was written by them in the first place. Though I’m willing to bet the original song isn’t actually as good as the cover.
- Finally, if you go to this website, you can hear a new song from The National, entitled “So Far Around The Bend”. It’s a bit more jolly than the stuff from their masterpiece of an album, 2007′s Boxer, and it contains orchestral arrangements from Nico Muhly, who did the arrangements on The Crying Light, mentioned earlier in the post. The compilation itself, Dark Was The Night, is a charity thing, put together by The National, and features songs from a selection of awesome artists and bands, including Arcade Fire, David Byrne, Bon Iver, My Morning Jacket and so forth. I’m sure it’ll be worth getting.