Written By: Fletcher Bonin
If you’re looking for a break from the usual music blaring from your speakers, check out I Am a Bird Now, the latest album from UK artist Antony and the Johnsons. This 2005 release features ten tracks that can only be described as Avant-pop. The androgynous voice of Anhoni is trembling and powerful, warbling over a steady piano background. I cannot stress enough the complexity of their sound on this album. Antony and the Johnsons bring us an emotional compilation of chilling, beautiful music and a range of sounds unique to their art-pop style.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about this album is the guest appearances, featuring the likes of Lou Reed, Rufus Wainwright, Boy George and Devandra Banhart. These artists help to develop the tone of vulnerability and openheartedness imbued throughout all ten tracks. Anhoni’s range is remarkable and on each slow masterpiece she is somehow able to import meaning into each note, so perfect and controlled are the vocals on this album. After listening thoroughly, feeling thoroughly, it is not hard to see why I Am a Bird Now received the award of Best UK Album of 2005.
The album encompasses themes of duality, specifically in the form of freedom through transformation. This of course goes hand in hand with the transgender themes not only on this album but in the band themselves. Indeed, Antony and the Johnsons are named after famous trans-rights activist Marsha P. Johnson. Many of the tracks discuss this duality of gender as well. ‘My Lady Story’ is smooth and heartfelt. The subsequent track ‘For Today I am a Boy’ relays the lyrics “one day I’ll grow up and be a beautiful woman, one day I’ll grow up and be a beautiful girl, but for today I am a child, for today I am a boy.” In no uncertain terms, Anhoni appears to be shedding light on the trans experience, giving further power and depth to her songs.
My pick for favorite track is ‘What Can I Do’ which I see as both the most powerful and the most musical. In fact, the song is oddly reminiscent of the Beatles to my ear with the refrain “mama, help me to live” sung in alto stretched over piano chords and a steady drum beat. The album’s ninth track ‘Free At Last’ appears to me to be a culmination of sorts, Anhoni speaking rather than singing on this track, “God I am free at last.” This album is strange and dark and incredibly beautiful, I highly recommend giving it a listen, feelings guaranteed.