Like the legendary butoh dancer Kazuo Ohno, who graces this EP’s cover, Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons has a thing for theatricality. He kicks off the Another World EP with its title track, a sparse call to leave this world for another. Whether he means leaving the planet Earth, moving onto the afterlife or merely leaving the New York grotesquerie he’s constructed around himself is entirely up to the listener to decide. But the vacuum of silence on “Another World” is a transcendent moment — one that both brings us in (through the epic lack of anything other than Antony’s voice for most of its four minutes) and keeps us at arm’s length (through the same).
Another World is meant as a teaser for the upcoming Antony and the Johnsons’ album, The Crying Light (due out in January), but it’s more of a shedding of the conventions that made the group’s previous album, I Am a Bird Now, a Mercury Prize winner. I Am a Bird Now used simple R&B histrionics (and guest performers like Devendra Banhart and Boy George) to frame Antony’s unusual vocal affectations (a wavering and fragile vibrato) for listeners who may have been put off if he had come out and done the empty, climax-less tracks on Anther World. Now that his place in the indie-rock milieu has firmly been established (largely thanks to the Mercury Prize and tours with Lou Reed), he’s open to become more than the implicit central focus of all the tracks and take center stage.
“Another World” sets the general aesthetic direction of the rest of the EP: “Crackagen” and “Hope Mountain” find Antony mostly accompanied by minor piano lines with little accoutrement (except for the Andrew Lloyd Webber horns near the end of “Hope Mountain”) and even the more expansive sonic texture of the up-tempo “Sing for Me” barely goes beyond a miniscule contribution to Antony’s proceedings.
There is one curveball, however: The EP’s centerpiece, the five-minute, rollicking “Shake That Devil.” The track begins with Antony’s voice accompanied by a distorted guitar line that seems ready to combust, and when the guitar finally does, it isn’t a hail of power chords and distortion; instead, it sways with a Motown-like braggadocio, and Antony merely sings the lines from the song’s first half with more intensity. In some ways, “Shake That Devil” best symbolizes the midpoint of a metamorphosis that “Another World” represents; it works as a song symbolizing where Antony is heading (“Shake that bird right out of me,” he sings) and where he was around I Am a Bird Now.
Another World is under 20 minutes long, but it’s more than a placeholder. It’s the portrait of an artist as a changeling, moving above and beyond his former skill-set.