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Anohni and the Johnsons, the group which first appeared from New York’s downtown art/music scene at the turn-of-the-century as Antony And The Johnsons, and split in 2010, will be releasing new music in July. It won’t be the only appearance this year of the artist formerly known as Antony, or Antony Hegarty, who has evolved into Anohni and she/her pronouns, as she is one of the guest vocalists on the new Rufus Wainwright album.

While Antony/Anohni & The Johnsons released their self-titled debut in 2000, it was their second, in 2005, which attracted not just attention but a flurry of nominations and awards, including Britain’s Mercury Prize. This album remains as striking and polarising and noteworthy as it did then.



I Am A Bird Now (Spunk/Inertia)

IT COMES DOWN TO THE VOICE and therefore there can be no middle ground here. You will either find Antony’s androgynous, high vibrato, intensely intimate voice a heart-crushing wonder and a soul-stirring pleasure or you will be irritated within minutes and eventually dismissive of a new age Tiny Tim.

The latter is an understandable reaction but not for me. Oh no, I’m smitten. Moved. Captivated.

Antony’s voice is absolutely startling for the way it seems to vibrate with emotion but holds still at its centre. It feels at first as if it must be all vulnerabilities and raw nerve endings: the songs speak of fearing loneliness, of questioning and yearning for but suspecting there will be no closeness (and of holding on dearly to those moments when comfort is found).

But there’s such strength, both vocal and emotional, within these songs that rather than feeling exposed they feel opened and inviting, confident enough to lay open to your eyes and ears. And when you enter you find yourself turned around and inside out.

At first, it’s by the way he seems to move from Nina Simone to Bryan Ferry (at his least louche) to something a step beyond a counter tenor, like how you imagine the castrati must have sounded: feminine but still rooted in the masculine; febrile and yet flighty. And then you notice the way in the lyrics gender fluctuates or contradicts or simply doesn’t matter, much like the music seems to have many faces.

How when Boy George joins him on You Are My Sister there’s an aged, wise and blues-like temper to the song; how when Rufus Wainwright visits in What Can I Do the effect is of tenderness and despair in equal measure in a piece of classic Broadway one-spotlight, end of the second act, moment.

In Spiralling he wraps you in something rich and velvety, and then opens the window so you can see the stars and feel the chill pricking the tips of your toes and small corners of flesh. That mix of comfort and discomfit makes it gorgeously sad, so exquisitely balanced.

Likewise in the escalating drama, done with little more than piano and voice, of For Today I Am A Boy (which begins “One day I’ll grow up to be a beautiful woman/One day I’ll grow up to be a beautiful girl/But for today I am a child”) or the precious delicacy of My Lady Story, Antony trembles with gospel hope and teeters on the edge of operatic fall.

Which could well be the story of this wholly different, wholly captivating album.


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