Sexual confusion, sibling rivalry, fear of death: On 2005’s gut-twisting I Am aBird Now, Antony Hegarty sang about earthly anxieties in a deep croon that could have come from some androgynous, mournful extraterrestrial. Hegarty’s voice is famously his own; stylistically, he’s akin to Björk, but with a timbre closer to a saxophone. His best work, including contributions to Hercules and Love Affair’s glassy-eyed disco debut last year, thrives on the shock of recognizing the human frailty in Hegarty’s velvety, otherworldly bay.
Antony and the Johnsons’ third full-length wisely focuses on the frontman’s enormous talent, with Nico Muhly’s classical arrangements plinking and waltzing but never overpowering. Hegarty’s command has never been greater: The album’s opening note, quivering and clinging like a spider in a wind-buffeted web, could send an unprepared listener to the brink of tears.
Still, The Crying Light may be the singer’s most alien-seeming work yet. His motives feel distant, with each song sketching surreal scenes of flowers and snow, flecked with references to sad eyes and ill-defined desires. Hegarty appears to be exploring the ways that nature leaves every living thing perfect but incomplete — from the sun-seeking plant to the helpless baby to the convulsing epileptic. It’s a fitting, if oblique, message from a man who voices his species’ joys and sorrows in sounds only he can produce.
Listen: Antony and the Johnsons, “Another World”