Thursday, January 10, 2013

Albums of 2012 # 10: Dead Can Dance - Anastasis

My only other reference point for the music of Dead Can Dance is the 2005 ‘very best of’ release, Memento. That album is of course a compilation of more than two decades worth of peaks, so as far as benchmarking levels go it’s a fairly lofty height to live up to.

As far back as the early Eighties Dead Can Dance always seemed to be one of those “bands” skirting around the periphery of stuff I liked – think, say, 4AD stablemates This Mortal Coil/Cocteau Twins for an immediate marker. Yet I never really formed a particularly strong bond with anything they released at the time, or indeed, over time. A copy of Memento would seem like more than enough for the casual fan; all I’d need, a representative work, and an acknowledgement of their existence. Surely?

Well, yes, but then none of the above accounts for DCD’s capacity for pleasant surprises. For an ability to conjure up something special, a belated swansong even, when least expected …

Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard’s decision to reform and collaborate on a new album – 2012’s Anastasis – some 16 years after the release of the duo’s last album of new material under the Dead Can Dance moniker was, even in this age of nostalgia overload, a major surprise.

For Anastasis to then go on and become one of more impressive albums of the year speaks volumes about how productive and far reaching that “comeback” has been. Rather fittingly, I’m told that the album’s title (Greek) can be loosely translated to mean “rebirth” (or something akin to that). No question they got that bit right.

It also led to a hugely busy year for the duo, with an extensive tour across North America and Europe throughout the northern hemisphere autumn, a trip that even scheduled a gig in the troubled hot spot that is Lebanon (Beirut).

Not that Anastasis is a dramatic departure from anything DCD has offered us previously, and Perry and Gerrard clearly haven’t set out to reinvent the wheel; what worked before still works. As always we get a highly unique variation on what most of us would call goth – part classical or neo classical, part pop, part world music … but it’s never anything less than 100% arty and always true to the duo’s dark roots.

If anything, the album feels like a slight progression on DCD’s tried and trusted forms. Maybe it is just better technology all these years on, but there’s a real depth to Perry’s carefully crafted sound collages that I’d not noticed before, and Gerrard’s heavenly vocal remains as rich as ever.

If there’s a downside it’s that some of the lyrics feel a little awkward at times, shop-worn or a little cliché even. Listen too carefully and you’ll doubtlessly find a couple of cringeworthy moments. Perry and Gerrard share vocal duties, seldom together, Perry’s strengths being the darker tracks, with Gerrard practically flawless on the more eastern flavoured or world music styled tracks.
Highlights: the string drenched opener ‘Children of the Sun’, a sweeping epic to kick things off. ‘Amnesia’, which lopes along harmlessly before slowly revealing the darker themes at its core. And while the old-worldly Celtic textures of ‘Return of the She-King’ also resonate strongly with me, the real jewel on the album is ‘Opium’, a beautifully constructed masterpiece featuring a great vocal from Perry; Goth 101 … and a lot more besides (link below).

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