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Rhythm & Views

Antony and the Johnsons

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So there's this guy in New York named Antony who, despite physically resembling the love child of Pee Wee Herman and Phil Collins, has somehow convinced genuine artists like Lou Reed, Rufus Wainwright and Devendra Banhart to contribute vocal performances to his full-length collection of shattered spirituals called I Am a Bird Now. Antony sounds like Nina Simone digging through an old church hymnal after downing a cocktail of Percosets and cheap wine, or maybe more like Bryan Ferry after getting the piss beaten out of him during a late-night rendezvous in the public restroom of a downtown park. Whatever he may sound like, Antony is absolutely otherworldly, not just in terms of his timbre, but also in his songs, which, at their best, suggest they were beamed down from a Southern Baptist colony on Mars.

So is I Am a Bird Now a spectacular album? Yes, if you're into sincerely deranged gospel music performed with an easy, eerie grace. Some moments just take off like a rocket, particularly the bleeding piano stomp at the end of "Hope There's Someone," a plea for an end to loneliness. Other moments--the emotionally naked duet with Boy George (of all people!) in "You Are My Sister," for instance--just leave you with your jaw hanging open, wondering why you ever bought into smarmy bullshit like Weezer in the first place.

I know art when I hear it, and I Am a Bird Now is art of the highest order, because it challenges me with its odd grace and unique sensibility.

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