Another Left Turn from Antony and the Johnsons


Antony and the Johnsons: Cut the World (Secretly Canadian)

It figured that Antony Hegarty's live album would be no rote effort; he's not one for half measures or meeting expectations. The first track, which gives its name to the album, is in fact a new studio track complete with orchestra; it comes from an opera he's writing with avant-gardist William Basinski, The Life and Death of Marina Abramović, about a Serbian performance artist. Furthermore, the second track, "Future Feminism," is seven-and-a-half minutes not of music, but of Antony's ruminations on being a witch, the oceans as Earth's blood, the relative merits of masculine versus feminine political leaders, and more.

Then comes the concert, also with orchestra thanks to a variety of arrangers (including Nico Muhly, who -- though out of his depth as a leader on his own albums -- is good at this sort of assignment, as he's previously shown in his work with Sufjan Stevens). They have given Antony string-heavy versions of highlights from his back catalog. The most striking arrangement is "Another World," which has acquired a low drone that adds a tension that, though it undercuts the song's beauty, provides psychological depth.

I miss the humor that, in a previous concert, produced "Why Am I Still Sucking on Your Dick?" (that track was released under a pseudonym on the 2009 Voodoo-Eros label compilation The Enlightened Family: A Collection of Lost Songs), and I hope that one day he'll release a whole live album in his stripped-down style of those days (a touch of that is heard on the opening of "I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy"). But I don't express those wishes to detract from Cut the World, which, recorded last September in Copenhagen, Denmark with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra, is perfect for what it is. "Rapture" in particular has been waiting for this sort of rhapsodic rendition.

With his vibrato-heavy falsetto singing, new-agey perspective, and nakedly confessional lyrics, Antony is an acquired taste. Once that taste is acquired, though, he proves to be no one-note phenomenon; his albums have shown a fair amount of stylistic variety, with Cut the World showing once again that he doesn't rest on his laurels but instead explores new territory. - Steve Holtje

steve-holtjeMr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based editor, poet, and composer. His song cycle setting five of James Joyce's Pomes Penyeach can be heard here.