Dionysus, the new album from Dead Can Dance

Diony­sus, Dean Can Danse.

Dead Can Dance estab­lished them­selves in the 80s as one of the arche­typ­al indie bands, and were part of a tri­umvi­rate that includ­ed the Cocteau Twins and This Mor­tal Coil. Each offered up a heady mix of ethe­re­al female vocals over an intox­i­cat­ing caul­dron of indus­tri­al goth, post punk and world music. And it was the cor­ner stone upon which the era-defin­ing 4AD records was founded.

Though always based in Lon­don, 4AD came increas­ing­ly to be asso­ci­at­ed with under­ground Amer­i­can acts such as the Pix­ies, Throw­ing Mus­es and the Red House Painters, who they signed in the 90s, and, more recent­ly Bon Iver, St Vin­cent, Iron and Wine (see my ear­li­er review here) and the Nation­al, who all form part of the cur­rent rostra.

It’ll End in Tears, This Mor­tal Coil.

But it was that core trio, and more specif­i­cal­ly their three totemic sirens that gave 4AD its dis­tinc­tive hue. Liz Fras­er with the Cocteau Twins, Ali­son Lim­er­ick with This Mor­tal Coil and Lisa Ger­rard and Dead Can Dance.

Ger­rard and Bren­dan Per­ry are the musi­cal duo around which dead Can Dance revolve, and the pair have been joined by an assort­ment of musi­cians over the course of their nine albums. The best known of which is prob­a­bly the Serpent’s Egg, with the soar­ing and glo­ri­ous­ly cin­e­mat­ic the Host of Seraphim, which you can hear here

The Shep­herd’s Dog, Iron and Wine.

Diony­sus is their lat­est offer­ing, and their first since their come­back album, Anas­ta­sis, in 2012. Osten­si­bly in two acts, the 7 tracks come in at a curt 36 min­utes but there’s a heft and a gen­uine sense of sub­stance that belie its brevity. 

As ever with a Dead Can Dance project, there’s an intel­lec­tu­al seri­ous­ness to the album that sets it apart in a world obsessed with mere­ly get­ting noticed. There’s some­thing pleas­ing­ly refresh­ing about a band who are unapolo­getic about tak­ing what they do seriously. 

Blue­bell Knoll, the Cocteau Twins.

The result is a rich and com­plex sound­scape formed from propul­sive north African rhythms and dense­ly lay­ered Ara­bic vocal lines, brought to life thanks to an assort­ment of exot­ic, eso­teric near east­ern and cen­tral Euro­pean instru­ments such as the zor­na, the gadul­ka and the gai­da (see Ben Cardew’s review on Pitch­fork here).

You can see the video for the Moun­tain here

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Salt”, the latest album from Katie Kim.

Katie Kin's Salt.

Katie Kin’s Salt.

In a par­al­lel uni­verse some­where it was Cristi­na who was cat­a­pult­ed to star­dom in the 1980s, while Madon­na con­tin­ues to wait tables some­where in Williams­burg. There, Katie Kim’s records sell by the truckload.

Few things delin­eate us more dis­tinc­tive­ly than those secret dis­cov­er­ies we make in the worlds of music, books, film and tele­vi­sion. But if any of those dis­cov­er­ies sud­den­ly enjoy unex­pect­ed com­mer­cial suc­cess, we become deeply sus­pi­cious of them. Noth­ing con­t­a­m­i­nates art quite as irre­deemably as pop­u­lar acclaim.

All of which makes Katie Kim the most allur­ing artist work­ing any­where on these isles. Her lat­est album Salt came out last autumn, and so unher­ald­ed was its release that it com­plete­ly passed me by.

Doll in a box, Cristina.

Doll in a box, Cristina.

I had first come across her in 2011 when I saw her per­form at the event curat­ed by Don­al Dineen at Dublin Con­tem­po­rary. And when her sec­ond album, Cov­er and Flood, came out lat­er that year, I had no hes­i­ta­tion in declar­ing it the album of the year, not with­stand­ing what a stel­lar year 2011 was music-wise, which I reviewed ear­li­er here,

So I had been eager­ly await­ing her new album ever since, but some­how I still man­aged to miss it when it came out last autumn. I only heard of its arrival when it was nom­i­nat­ed for the Choice Music Album of the year award. And although of course I’m delight­ed that the prize even­tu­al­ly went to Rusangano Fam­i­ly, few artists would have mer­it­ed that boost to their career that win­ning an award like that would have giv­en her than Kim.


Limerick's Rusangano Family.

Lim­er­ick­’s Rusangano Family.

Salt is a more com­pact and cohe­sive affair than her pre­vi­ous cou­ple of records, but the atmos­phere it evokes and the feel of the album are famil­iar. We’re in 4AD ter­ri­to­ry here. And if it nev­er gets quite as pri­mal, gui­tar wise, as it does on a Cocteau Twins record, there’s no mis­tak­ing the terrain.

Think Sti­na Nor­den­stam record­ing an album for 4AD with some of the Dead Can Dance crew pro­vid­ing pro­duc­tion duties. There’s an ethe­re­al vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty to the vocals that’s bol­stered by the heft and propul­sion pro­duced by the lay­ers of sound that sur­round and give weight to the melodies.

Katie Kim's Cover and Flood.

Katie Kim’s Cov­er and Flood.

The result is a won­der­ful­ly dark album that you want to hear at four o’clock in the morn­ing, but with the vol­ume turned up loud.

Secrets are won­der­ful, but it’s point­less if you’ve lit­er­al­ly no one to share them with. So for good­ness sake go and buy this album. I need some­body else to talk to about it.

You can see the video for the track Ghosts here.

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