April 12, 2005

Antony & The Johnsons "I Am A Bird Now"

Devestatingly beautiful.

That's about the best description of I Am A Bird Now, the second album by New York-based Antony & The Johnsons. The singular vision of a boy known simply as Antony, I Am A Bird Now is a record that escapes easy categorization; at times, it's downright contradictory. It's not a record for the faint-hearted, but at the same time, it's meant for those whose hearts are faint. It's a cold, distant record that's full of love and warmth for those who dare to brave the emotional blizzard. It's a grand, lush, symphonic record, yet it's basically a piano record. It's a record that feels like a day-long spiritual exorcism, even though its length is barely thirty minutes.

And then there's that voice. To say his voice is unique is simply stating the obvious; it sounds like an otherworldly combination of Nina Simone, Klaus Nomi and Jeff Buckley--except, in many ways, his is better than all three combined. No, Antony is his own man, and even though this only his second record, he has the strength and the confidence of someone with decades upon decades of stage experience. His is a voice that's come out of nowhere, and it says quite a bit that he can make musical luminaries Boy George, Rufus Wainwright, Lou Reed and Devendra Banhardt sound like mere back-up singers. That he can take four of the most distinctive voices and make them seem second-rate compared to him says much about just how wonderful. (It's also interesting to note that "The Johnsons" consist of members of Jeff Buckley's band, as well as his girlfriend, the excellent Joan Wasser.)

Then there's the songs themselves. Though occasionally his music is flush with string and brass--most notably on the somewhat incongruous "Fistfull of Love," which features Lou Reed and a sexy R&B rhythm track--the record never really strays from the simple piano-based melodies. His lyrics document a journey through pain, loss, failed dreams and confusion--confusion caused by love gone wrong, but more specifically, his songs deal with gender confusion and the pain it causes. Simple arrangements make for more powerful words; it's hard not to avoid the waterworks when you reach the end of the simple "Today I Am A Boy," where he duets with himself over the painfully simple words, "For today, I am a child/For today, I am a boy." "You Are My Sister," a duet with his childhood idol Boy George, is perhaps one of the most touching songs you'll hear this year. "Hope There's Someone" is both a sad song of acceptance, but also a hopeful number about being lonely in the world, a reassurance that even the oddest person has someone in the world that will love them. By the time you reach "Bird Gerhl"--perhaps the most beautiful song on the record--you'll be emotionally spent.

Is it possible for a man to make a record that makes every other record you've ever heard totally and utterly inferior? Not only is it possible, it's been done. I Am A Bird Now is that record. It will leave you breathless, weeping and feeling all alone, yet it will love you, comfort you and make you feel loved. I Am A Bird Now is a classic, beautiful work of art.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.antonyandthejohnsons.com
Label Website: http://www.secretlycanadian.com

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