The first time I heard Antony Hegarty’s voice, on 2004’s Devendra Banhart-curated folk compilation The Golden Apples of the Sun, its plaintive intensity intrigued me. When acclaimed album I Am a Bird Now arrived the following year, however, I pushed it away, overwhelmed by the severity of Hegarty’s instrument and the earnestness of his message. When I ran across it again, on 2007’s divine Björk duet “The Dull Flame of Desire,” I was convinced I had Hegarty’s power pegged: short doses, definitely; long stretches, no thanks.
Against that backdrop arrives The Crying Light, a 40-minute disc determined to press the limits of my Hegarty endurance. How much tortured, perfectly pitched vocal work can a listener experience in one sitting before turning off and reaching for something with a little less purity to it?
Quite a bit, it turns out, when the backing arrangements are this well-devised. From the delicate piano/string combo on exquisite opener “Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground” (three guesses what that one’s about) to the sprightly drumming on the poppy “Kiss My Name” to the surprisingly rockish guitar work on the anthemic “Aeon,” the music balances out each of Hegarty’s darkly theatrical wails and warbles with something actually of this Earth.
Still, I cannot tell a lie; gripping as the 10 individual cuts on The Crying Light might be, played straight through, the album overwhelms me somewhat. Perhaps that’s the true purpose of Antony Hegarty’s music—to ensnare us in stages, until the day when nothing else can quite fill that unique place in our hearts.