Antony and the Johnsons

Antony and the Johnsons' sophomore album boasts some impressive credentials, specifically the receipt of the prestigious 2005 Mercury Award, the European honor accorded to the year's best breakout band. Even so, Antony himself remains something of an enigma. Hailing from California by way of New York's cabaret scene, he has fashioned himself into an androgynous diva, absorbing the influences of Eartha Kitt, Boy George and Rufus Wainwright (appropriately, the latter two make appearances on the new album alongside Lou Reed and Devendra Banhart). "One day I'll grow up and be a beautiful woman…a beautiful girl," he coos on "For Today I Am a Boy," heightening his elusive aura. Nevertheless, his voice -- a soulful, quivering falsetto that fills the sparse arrangements -- makes an immediate impression on songs such as "What Can I Do?" "Man Is the Baby" and "Man Lady Story." A certain sameness threatens to swamp the album in tedium, but the power of Antony's voice and his sheer presence ensure that I Am a Bird Now soars above its shortcomings.

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