Antony & the Johnsons: Antony & the Johnsons

The first album by Antony and the Johnsons is a truly rare thing, a debut that doesn’t merely show promise but announces the arrival of a fully formed, major talent. It’s an extraordinary collection of modern torch songs, each one a perfect concentration of emotive vocals and vivid instrumental colors.

For bringing this beautiful creation to our attention, as for so much else, we have to thank David Tibet of Current 93, who was introduced to Antony in New York and, deeply affected by the then unreleased album, became his benevolent patron. The album appears on Tibet’s Durtro label… This is not the first time that Tibet has given prominence via his label to wayward, neglected talents; English folk singer Shirley Collins, Krautrockers Sand and (more dubiously) Tiny Tim have all benefited from his patronage. But these were essentially archival releases, intended to make available once again records from the past which would otherwise have lain dormant. Antony, on the other hand, is utterly of the present; and yet his songs have a dreamlike, yearning quality that equally makes them timeless.

Antony sings his baroque texts in a richly soulful voice that could melt the stoniest of hearts, while the Johnsons deliver an inspired soundtrack of strings, piano, woodwind and percussion. The music’s glorious emotional swell fortifies the listener even as the words tell unbearably of pain, death and atrocity. There is a dark anguish here that moves from nakedly personal confessions to tender elegies for lost friends and poetic meditations on the state of the world. Under Antony’s sorrowful gaze, this anguish assumes an overwhelming density, weighing down these songs tragically and unforgettably.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 8, 2000)

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