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

cd antonyAntony Hegarty is an artist, in the entire sense of the word.

 

Antony and the Johnsons is not your everyday artist, and the word “artist” is perhaps much more important in this case than in many others. People have the belief that Lady Gaga creates art through unusual displays and acts, but she also has major labels and other forces directing that “art.” Antony Hegarty is an artist, in the entire sense of the word.

Cut the World is not just another album, another piece to add to Hegarty’s already incredible portfolio, but rather a reimagining of the works he has already made. It is an album that wipes the slate clean, welcoming the listener into perhaps what the new era of art will be for this young artist.

Recorded live in Denmark—Copenhagen, to be exact—with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra, Cut the World adds a new level of creativity and ingenuity to tracks had already defined the artist. To be honest, until now, I had not been what one would call a true fan, but I have had a great appreciation for what Hegarty does and how emotionally charged his art seems to be. My main source of experience with the band was due in major part to CocoRosie and my better half, but without having ever given a real, quality listen before, I don’t think that I am in a place to truly judge this record.

Rather, I think it is more important to note what effect this album has had on me. Following a thorough listen, a re-listen, and another listen I still wasn’t sure what to say. After really soaking it in, I found a real appreciation of Antony and the Johnsons. From what I had pieced together in the past, I didn’t find myself compelled to listen, to further my experience with him or his group. Cut the World made it much easier for me to see what I had been missing, what I was unable to notice in a catalog of what I now crave to listen to: The orchestration of the music, the ebb and flow of the seemingly constant building of something great, something intangible, something I hadn’t noticed before.

The scores are written in a manner that silence the listener, causing you to really reflect on each choice of notation. They thrill you and draw you in while somehow making everything else around you still and silent. “Cripple and the Starfish,” a track that originally contained sounds that made me think of the ’80s or something out of a musical, becomes this haunting work that seems much more fit for a modern opera. Perhaps that isn’t the correct terminology—fine art hasn’t always been my strong suit—but the orchestration makes me feel something much more real and intense than the original could ever have hoped to invoke.

The standout recording is by far, “Fell in Love with a Dead Boy.” To me, the original seemed like something taken from Motown, a smooth recount over simplistic strings that one could slow dance to, something you would pull your loved one close and enjoy, tap your feet, and spin around—but not this recording. The original makes us wait though an eight-second break in the beginning of the track. It then leads into the sweet, charming song Hegarty was able to create, but on Cut the World, we are made to wait 19 seconds, and rightly so. Nothing about this live recording sounds anything like the original. The opening is dramatic and the pause is justified. It makes us pause to consider what we heard, and allows the grand orchestra to bring us to a silence after Hegarty sings, “For I fear that you might be dead/ but I just laid down beside you, and held your hair,” and then bring us back to life with simple keys and the line, “I fell in love with you, now you’re my one and only.” I say brings us back to life because as a listener you have that moment—the one where you hope, you really feel like maybe he will, come back to life, that dead boy—but it doesn’t happen. The orchestra does an incredible job of illustrating the joy of the love, the pure happiness of what love can make us feel; even though the boy may have been dead, you feel in this song, this story, this piece of art, that Hegarty was really in love, a true love.

The album ends with “Twilight,” a song that originally held quite an emotional impact on its own. To imagine a reinterpretation that could evoke more of an emotional response without the original instrumentation is something almost unconceivable. Originally, the score was dramatic, a changing tempo with haunting vocals that turn to speech with keys and harp, but the orchestration on Cut the World gives it a more intense conclusion. The departure from the original is not as easily noticeable as on other tracks, but here, Hegarty, ending his live performance, seems to be somewhat better off, more accomplished, maybe. Having just completed something so unusual for such an already unusual artist, the conclusion seems to be that it was all meaning: It was all for something greater.

Perhaps there is not quite a proper way to capture this album. I am not sure that anything I could write would really reflect the emotional journey it seems to take and create. At times, it is hard to remember this is a live performance, given the incredible attention to detail and quality it captures. Cut the World changed my view of Antony and the Johnsons. It gave me the real understanding that I think would help so many to truly enjoy the artful creations of this artist. It is incredible how it works, how tracks are transformed simply by interpretation—but isn’t that just what art is. What it inspires inside of us, what it causes us to feel is really what art is, and Hegarty has done nothing but illustrate that fact on Cut the World like no one else possibly could. | Alex Hodshayan

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