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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Antony and the Johnsons
I Am a Bird Now
Secretly Canadian

Rating: 9/10 ?


January 16, 2006
Admittedly, I waited a while to give this album by Antony and the Johnsons even the slightest listen, not wanting to be unduly influenced amidst the media buzz swirling around it. I wasn't really expecting anything out of the ordinary, but as the already-converted might imagine, this album totally caught me off guard when I finally did give it a chance. So much so that I didn't realize that I had been guarding myself against it, until my guard had been let down.

Even in it's first moments, I Am A Bird Now exuded an arrestingly haunting mystique and the starkly naked and fragile emotions emerging from Antony's vocals stopped me dead in my tracks and left me completely slack jawed and in awe of something much more than ordinary.

It is the extraordinary vocals of Antony that are undoubtedly the feature here, as they should be. They have been compared to a male version of Nina Simone or of the Jeff Buckley variety - even to those of children's choir. His voice stretches in vibrato and quivers in emotion. He never wails or yelps, screams or yells, nor does he ever overstep the boundaries set by the melancholic cabaret that the Johnsons and his piano work provide. Antony's voice works with them, but that is not to say that it blends in fails to make the hair on the back of your neck from rising to attention. And it's not as though the subject matter that Antony so bravely covers doesn't offer itself to painful yells or screams. It's just that the way it is delivered is far more effective at getting the painful story of a search for companionship and belonging across than it is at settling into the mix.

And to understand the story, to understand the voice, it is helpful to understand the man behind the voice.

Without going too far into a history lesson, Antony, raised in California, apparently peered at the image of Boy George on the cover of Culture Club's Kissing To Be Clever and saw for the first time, someone he could closely relate to. He has been quoted as saying, "I saw him and thought, Okay, that's what we do when we're like this: We become singers."

Antony's search to belong took him to New York City's bustling East Village, where he formed the Blacklips cabaret, initially modeling himself after androgynous vixens and vivacious drag queens - images of which had appealed to him, even at the age of 11.

Antony went on to record an interpretation of Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" on the album The Raven, and eventually opened up for him on tour. Reed also stood aside as Antony performed the Velvet Underground's "Candy Says," paying tribute to an Andy Warhol flick star Candy Darling, originally named James ("Jimmy") Lawrence Slattery. It is the portrait of Darling, entitled "Candy Darling On Her Deathbed," that appears on the cover of I Am A Bird Now.

Antony's subject matter on I Am A Bird Now is only a window for the rest of us to try and understand the struggles he has endured in his search for companionship, and a sense of belonging in this world. Not a topic matter easily covered - trying to convey to to the world the heartfelt story of an internal gender battle, extreme loneliness, loss, the need to love and to be loved. Ultimately Antony succeeds in taking us inside his very soul, delivering us there with such honesty and beauty that the need to truly understand him dissolves, leaving only the need for sympathy and appreciation.

And on this album, the mood immediately draws you in with the first words of "Hope There's Someone" as Antony's voice trembles in saying, "Hope there's someone who'll take care of me - when I die, when I go," an homage to Candy Darling, who is shown on the album's cover only days before losing a struggle to leukemia.

And just typing these words, as text on the screen, does no justice to the amazing effect felt when I Am A Bird Now is first heard. Alongside his piano line, Antony's vocals are haunting, dark and heartbreaking. The verse leads into a layered line, lead by vocal multi-tracking hymn of "There's a ghost on the horizon - When I go to bed" that feels both ghastly and beautiful. The song leads into a chaotic crashing and spiraling piano crescendo with an entire chorus of Antony operatically vocalizing the denouement in what is the most powerful song on the album, even though it is just Antony and his piano.

Which is not said to take anything away from the rest of the album, which ranges from "Fist Full Of Love," a domestic abuse-themed soul song a la Otis Redding (and featuring Antony's old pal, Lou Reed) to the soft, smooth flavored waltz and an added viola touch of "My Lady Story" or the unexpected and wholly welcomed and applauded appearance of Boy George on "You Are My Sister". All are completely different songs, and even though there are welcomed and interesting guest appearances from Boy George, Rufus Wainwright, Devendra Banhart and Lou Reed, they almost go unnoticed under the dominating presence of Antony and his voice.

The whole of the album is stunning and unique, and if the thematic gender-bending core of the album makes a few people ideologically shy away, then it's truly a shame. Antony's tales of being a boy today and a lady the next, or being caged and wanting to be fly away and be free, are beautifully and artfully told atop a wonderful soundtrack. And besides, the emotions expressed by the music and Antony's voice are universally engrossing and are not entirely hinged on the listeners' understanding or acceptance of the lifestyle. Simply put, Antony could singing about a cracker box and break my heart. But the fact that there really is such meaning behind it all - in an undefended, unapologetic and fragile effort to expose his soul to the world - really helps me to realize that he has succeeded in creating an amazing collection of music that does just that.

Reviewed by Randy Gaudreau
Holding down the fort up north in Vancouver, Randy Gaudreau is currently chipping away at things that keep him from forming some sort of life that would only work for him and everyone is proud of him for.

See other reviews by Randy Gaudreau

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