Antony Hegarty’s gorgeously androgynous voice is the make-or-break point for many listeners when it comes to Antony and the Johnsons.
He played it to its drama-queen best on 2005’s “I Am a Bird Now,” supplementing somber, piano-based chamber pop with his quavering cry.
On “Swanlights,” which came 21 months after 2009’s “The Crying Light” after four- and five-year layoffs between the group’s first two efforts, Hegarty steers the band into opening up and trying new things.
“Everything is New” takes a more orchestral, grandiose approach midsong when previous efforts would’ve favored a pop attitude. On the title track, the glitchy pop leans in a new direction for the band, which made its name on depressing piano balladry.
Even “Ghost,” which employs the piano in a much more upbeat affair, makes “Swanlights” an interesting excursion for Antony and the Johnsons fans and an effort to reel in newcomers. The biggest boundary-pushers come at the end, with “Salt Silver Oxygen” and “Christina’s Farm,” the latter of which pushes the band into places it’d never dreamed.
It suggests that instead of twisting Beyoncé songs to fit its lugubrious mantra, Antony and the Johnsons still have room to grow on their own terms.
Our Music Year is Daily Republic popular culture writer Nick DeCicco’s yearlong online review in 2012 of albums he had previously not listened to. The reviews will appear in print on their corresponding days during 2013. Reach him at 427-6966 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ndeciccodr.