Advance Notice: Antony and the Johnsons’ “The Crying Light”

From the get-go, Antony and the Johnsons’ The Crying Light languishes in undiluted distress, shaping a bitter, abstract moan into its first real words: “Her eyes….are underneath the ground.” To say this record represents a bitter acceptance of atrophy would be inexact. On its cover, an old woman, eyes to the sky, presses bony fingers away from her body, her face abstract, ambiguously emotional. Like his cover figure, Antony is simultaneously overwhelmed and at peace with his pain. Our full review, after the jump.

On songs like opener, “Hey Eyes are Underneath the Ground” and title track, “The Crying Light,” Antony’s heart-wrenching warble racks soothing strings and minor-key acoustic melodies to their otherwise unassuming core. It’s the sound of the beast moaning, eternal pain without prejudice.

While, some may mistake his unusually reserved tone for diluted emotion, Antony’s lack of outright theatricality this time around is in some ways more true to his hyper-sensitive ethos. Minus the razzle-dazzle of internationally overwrought vocals and instrumentals, Antony is able to truly bare distressed emotion, rather than simply perform it. Thus, on the modest, but brilliant, “Another World” the singer makes great thematic strides, pining over soft orchestrals, not for death or final release, but for the supplication of this place and time: “I need another world…”

Not that he’s resigned to perpetual pain: “One Dove” rings hopefully with the dual refrains “Bring me some peace” and “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” while the wistful “Kiss My Name” takes an almost affable tone, swimming in relatively upbeat, bright violin and piano tones and full-bodied flute. For its part, “Aeon” pairs electric guitar with Antony’s giddy exhortations, leveling the almost-comforting assertion that the song’s title character will “take care of me.”

Initially sullen, the epic “Daylight and the Sun” quickly emerges from its funk; strings swell into a consideration of the (metaphorical) joy of sun and the pain that comes with a lack of light. Here, as throughout the record, immediate pain takes a back seat to pining.  Even in the depths, his heart remains full of hope derived form the memory of what was and what will (or could) be again. Whereas Antony’s earlier records reveled in a more all-encompassing, overwhelming angst, The Crying light represents a tangible step toward real emotional recovery.