Antony Hegarty’s connection to the natural world, earlier explored on 2009’s lovely The Crying Light, continues to drive his work with the Johnsons. Their latest release, Swanlights, is the aural equivalent of viewing the earth from a satellite just above the stratosphere: beautiful, austere, a little difficult to recognize. The voices and textures of nature are present throughout the album; some songs, like the chilling “Ghost,” conjure a fierce wind on the sea, while others, like the title track, can only be properly described by Antony himself. “Swanlights,” he tells us, are “the reflection of light on the surface of the water at night,” or “the moment when a spirit jumps out of a body and turns into a violet ghost.”
The 144-page book of Antony’s artwork and writing included with the special edition release of Swanlights is described in its press release as “Bleakly environmental,” depicting “a natural and spiritual world under siege.” For all its environmentalist impulses, however, Swanlights can’t in good conscience be described as a political album; rather, it recalls the tradition of the Romantic poets, with its awe at the sublime power of nature tempered by heady ruminations on the most intimate, vulnerable love. Each song is heavy with instrumentation–string drones, lush vocal lines and jammy, textured synths send chills racing up the spine, but as usual, they’re all bound together by the magnetic pull of Antony’s voice. “Kiss me like a hummingbird,” he coos on “I’m In Love,” and even while we listen from far above the earth, we can’t help but feel at home.