Dead Can Dance, |
Toward the Within
(4 A.D./Warner Brothers, 1994)
Australian Lisa Gerrard and Brit Brendan Perry usually work as a pair. But Dead Can Dance got a personnel upgrade for the album Toward the Within, a live recording from the Mayfair Theatre in Santa Monica, Calif.
Gerrard and Perry provide vocals and percussion. Perry adds 12-string guitar, Irish bouzouki and D whistle; Gerrard also plays the yang ch'in, a instrument similar to the hammered dulcimer. They're joined by Robert Perry on uillean pipes, Irish bouzouki, low D whistle and percussion, John Bonnar on keyboards, voice and percussion, Ronan O'Snodaigh on percussion and voice, Andrew Claxton on keyboards and Lance Hogan on bass guitar, 6-string guitar, percussion and voice. Combined, it's a lush arrangement of vocals and instrumentation which should satisfy any Dead Can Dance fan and bring new ones into the fold.
The album draws on various world music traditions for a mix of original and traditional, newly arranged material. The traditional tunes have been recreated like only Dead Can Dance can do; at the same time, the new compositions smack of antiquity. Percussion is a powerful element of their sound, but it stands on a par with, never dominating, the vocals.
The album begins with "Rakim," building a soundscape under Gerrard's delicate melody on the yang ch'in. The music leads into the first Perry vocals with distinctive percussion, while Gerrard's vocal harmonies give a subtle hint of what's to come. Then Gerrard demonstrates her own vocal acrobatics in "Persian Love Song," an a capella traditional song.
His lofty vocals in the drum-heavy "Desert Song" and hers in the atmospheric "Yulunga (Spirit Dance)" will have you solidly convinced that this is a pair of singers to grab and hold onto your attention. But that's not all; "Piece for Solo Flute" is exactly what the title suggests, amazing sweeps and flourishes in a nice display of Robert Perry's talents.
"The Wind That Shakes the Barley" is Gerrard's potent a cappella treatment of a traditional Irish ballad about true love lost. Perry (that's Brendan) maintains the theme in the heart-breaking "I am Stretched on Your Grave," based on an ancient Irish poem and first turned into a song by Sinead O'Connor. This version is effectively punctuated by heartbeat percussion, with a crescendoing background soundscape leading into wild lamentations on flute and whistle.
"I Can See Now" and "American Dreaming," two Perry originals, show a touch of British progressive influence. While listening, I kept wondering how Greg Lake would sing them -- not that Lake would necessarily do it better; Perry's voice packs a punch.
"Cantara" has a baroque feel to start (on atypical instruments, of course) until the musicians kick it up a notch, the percussion plugs in and Gerrard soars into her wildest vocals yet. Perry proves he hadn't hit his vocal peak yet either; "Oman" matches his grand singing with some ponderous percussion and Middle Eastern ornamental touches. The singers pair up with an organ for the sacred-sounding "Song of the Sibyl," then Gerrard handles the mournful, partly spoken "Tristan" and the majestic "Sanvean." Gerrard has, without question, one of the strongest, most sensual female voices on record. The album ends with Perry singing "Don't Fade Away," average love ballad material made special by his voice.
Have you heard Dead Can Dance before? Toward the Within may surprise you. If you haven't heard them ... what are you waiting for?
by Tom Knapp
From the very first eerie opening bells, percussion and crystalline notes of the yang ch'in in "Rakim," it was clear this is music unlike any I had previously heard. It's as if it's from some other time: unplaceable, familiar, but utterly foreign.
I can't actually remember now when first I encountered Dead Can Dance. It seems as if they were always there, and also always something mysteriously untouchable. The music is exquisitely beautiful. It feels not so much manufactured as pulled surreptitiously from our collective unconscious.
The first song I recall hearing is "American Dreaming," one of the few commercially likely offerings from this album. Struck by the intense lyrics, which seem to describe both the helpless vulnerability of the human condition and the redemptive power of love, I was immediately sold. Brendan Perry's voice is compelling, dipping low into deep registers, which call your soul to believe his words. The tune is simple, but a perfect accompaniment.
Following this familiar and safe ground, DCD turns it all around. The slow-paced opening "Cantara" seems a warning prelude to the frenzied passion into which Lisa Gerrard whips her voice, the music following her to create a windstorm of emotionally churning activity. The mood is of some Middle-Eastern ritualism. This must be the music to which Salome danced.
As "Yulunga" moves into its growing rhythm, images of rainforests, medicine men and jungle animals slip and spin through my mental imagery, aided by what sounds like a rainstick being shaken, and what couldn't possibly be a monkey calling.
"I Can See Now" is another highlight for me, beginning with the pondersome lyrics, "Ever loved a woman/who made you feel tall?/Ever loved a man/who made you feel small?" Answered by, "If you were a sailor/I'd raise the anchor/to sail the sea/in search of you and me/and god." But that answer is followed by this warning: "There's nothing more dangerous/than a man with nothing to lose/nothing to live for/and nothing to prove."
These are a few of my favorite picks from the album. To describe each in the detail they deserve would result in a review too long to read! Although each song is distinctive, there is an overall commonality to the themes, and each is a complement to the others.
To try to put it any real world context, such as to compare it to popular music, seems impossible. The backbeat of drums in nearly every song is like a heartbeat, or the natural pulse and rhythms of the Earth. To me, it is more like a force of nature than something a human could conceive and create.
Who are these amazingly talented musicians? In attempting to find a simple answer to this question, I found an entirely new level to the music. I did an Internet search, and found an enormous fan base and mountains worth of information on Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard, founders of the band. From this point, Dead Can Dance has become an interactive experience for me. I first checked the band's website, where I found this quote from Perry: "Since our formation in 1981, we have refused to conform to the momentary passing of musical trends choosing instead more demanding avenues of expression, adopting diverse musical traditions and tailoring them to our own needs. This has often caused consternation to those who would attempt to classify our music." He adds, "In the beginning we were berated for being gothic two years too late, today we are applauded for being at the vanguard of World Music."
Both of these categorizations seem applicable, though I would hesitate to oversimplify the talent of this band by naming them gothic, which calls to mind too much eye makeup and an unimaginative wardrobe. Their target audience is thinking people who have roots in traditional, medieval and classical music.
This CD was recorded live at Mayfair Theatre in Santa Monica, California. It lacks the tinny, distant feel many live recordings are cursed with, and the presence of the audience contributes to the energy of the album.
It's been said that previous fans of DCD may find this recording unusual. I can't speak to that, as this is all I've heard from them. I do know that it's worth picking up, whether as your first DCD experience or to add to your existing collection.
by Katie Knapp