The Angel in Styx

I’ve written plenty about Hercules & Love Affair on this blog, but I don’t think I’ve drawn nearly enough attention to the genius of that outfit’s first album’s key vocal talent—Antony, of the Johnsons fame.

Like so many others, I was introduced to the NYC collective Antony and the Johnsons via their second album, I Am A Bird Now, which scooped the Mercury Prize in 2005, beating off all the post-punk brethren that populated the shortlist (and about whom I have blogged semi-furiously in the last fortnight). Unlike many others, I also stuck with Antony and the Johnsons through their subsequent releases.

Last year, I mentioned the regeneratory qualities of the title track to their most recent album, Swanlights, but they may well have nailed this art form with the opening track on I Am A Bird Now, five years previous. “Hope There’s Someone“, which begins with the devastating couplet, “Hope there’s someone who will take care of me / When I die, will I go?”, is the twenty-first century’s most sophisticated contemplation on the transition between this life and whatever comes next. Like a Hamlet for the gender-confused, Antony reveals he is scared of that “middle place, between light / and nowhere”. So far, so Shakespearean ballad. But halfway through, the plaintive piano melody is suddenly interrupted by pounding, Styxian chords backed by harrowing vocal exclamations. A cyclical organ figure makes the passage yet more pocket-apocalyptic. And then it all recedes, leaving just a solitary, wandering vocal filigree.

It’s a spine-tingling song that begins in elegiac fashion before morphing into a frenzied, panic-laden nightmare.

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