Reviews \

Antony and the Johnsons, ‘Swanlights’ (Secretly Canadian)

SPIN iconBy: SPIN Staff // September 9, 2010

Has there ever been a persona quite like the Mercury Prize–winningAntony Hegarty? One who so effortlessly straddles popular song and the avant-garde? Perhaps Björk, his duet partner on the distilled “Fluétta,” but as a performer who states in the 125-page hardcover art book that’s sold along with his fourth album, “I thank the Earth every day for making me transgender,” Antony stands apart. David Bowie and Peaches have played with trans identity, while Ray Davies and Lou Reed have penned odes to such characters, but who else has so embodied that duality? Considering how Antony engages the fluidity of his sexuality without camp or irony, it’s no wonder Reed sought out the spectral vocalist to cover the Velvet Underground’s “Candy Says” with him live.

Swanlights finds Antony both more ambitious and more impulsive. In vocalizing only the title of “Everything Is New,” he teases out vistas and great depths. “The Great White Ocean,” structured like a spiritual (evoking family and the beyond) transcends its gospel roots. And the title track might be Antony’s most ethereal recorded moment yet.

While his piano-based compositions are carefully constructed, Antony’s accompanying art feels spontaneous, even sloppy, touching on end-times images like melting ice caps, war orphans, and endangered animals. From yellowed headlines, nature-magazine clippings, marker scribblings, torn paper, even Kurt Cobain’s visage, Antony extracts a poignancy that beautifully matches his music.