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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Julianna Barwick’s “The Magic Place”, David Lynch’s Soon To Be, Surely, Muse.

It’s hard to avoid using the E word when talk­ing about Julian­na Bar­wick. Her com­bi­na­tion of ethe­re­al, hyp­not­ic vocals with care­ful­ly con­struct­ed lay­ers of metic­u­lous­ly craft­ed sound con­jures up inevitable if unfor­tu­nate visions of Enya.

A more use­ful com­par­i­son might be with Liz Fras­er, and the sort of music that she and her fel­low 4AD sirens were pro­duc­ing with the likes of the Cocteau Twins, This Mor­tal Coil and Dead Can Dance. But there’s none of that angst with Barwick.

The waves of balm that she wraps you up in evoke instead the blissed-up chill-out calm of last year’s With­in And With­out from Washed Out, reviewed here ear­li­er, with the occa­sion­al echo of the qui­eter bits form Pan­da Bear’s Tomboy.

The Mag­ic Place is all of the above, and yet some­how so much more. For despite all that bliss, and calm, and chilled out, yawn, seren­i­ty, it’s an album that man­ages to avoid ever sound­ing in any way monotonous.

Which is remark­able. There are no lyrics to speak of, in the con­ven­tion­al sense. It’s essen­tial­ly a Min­i­mal­ist album, where each piece takes a motif which is then worked on, method­i­cal­ly, almost math­e­mat­i­cal­ly, up to vary­ing degrees of com­pli­ca­tion. And yet, there’s enough vari­a­tion through­out and across each of the nine tracks to draw you in and hold you there. And rather than ever becom­ing bor­ing, the more you lis­ten to it the more beguil­ing become its charms.

Offi­cial­ly, it’s her sec­ond album, but to all extents and pur­pos­es The Mag­ic Place is her first album prop­er and has been out for a year now. It got an impressed 8.5 from the boys from Prav­da http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/15147-the-magic-place/?utm_campaign=search&utm_medium=site&utm_source=search-ac. If you missed it first time around, treat yourself.