Amadas Estrellas
(Sequoia Groove, 2007)

Remember Enigma? Of course you do. Chilled beats, Gregorian chants, sensual female vocals and a few moments of heavy breathing. All very exciting and new -- 10 years ago.

It's a hard act to follow, given our increasingly jaded ears. But with a little help from Spanish singer Luisa Fernandez, former Enigma member Jens Gad pulls it off on Achillea's second release Amadas Estrellas. Because Gad doesn't so much renovate his sound as update it, the result is a CD that amps up the sensuality but retains all the lush ambience that characterised Enigma.

This new recording offers an earthy, sexy sensibility grounded in Fernandez's Spanish vocals. The 10 tracks explore different aspects of love, from the lofty-minded "Amor, Part I" to the rather less platonic "Desnudame." Don't worry if you don't speak Spanish: the less you know, the more romantic and exotic the pedestrian lyrics are likely to seem. (Ignorance may also allow you to ignore the faint S&M overtones on "Atacame.")

None of this detracts from the allure of Fernandez's husky, distinctive voice, as she murmurs and sings sweet -- or not so sweet -- nothings. And of course, her voice is backed by Gad's beautifully layered electronic soundscapes, dense enough to sink into and filled with a satisfying array of exotic percussion and instrumentation. On no other CD are you likely to find mournful Chinese erhus, wailing electric guitars, classical strings, rainforest birdsong, chilled beats and pseudo-Gregorian chants.

Gad goes a bit overboard on the titular track, which includes all of the above and becomes a slick, over-engineered pastiche. Fortunately, the other tracks exhibit more restraint and taste. With its rock sensibilities and unrelenting beat, "Amor, Part II" is an edgy outsider amongst its mellower neighbours, but it reprises the melody of "Amor, Part I" so surprisingly and effectively that it is easily the most interesting track on the CD.

Amadas Estrellas may come off as just a little too self-indulgently post-modern and overproduced, but when has Enigma been anything but? Take it for what it is: 45 uninterrupted minutes of atmospheric, sensual chill-out music with enough substance to reward your undivided attention.

review by
Jennifer Mo

7 June 2008

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