Critic's pick: Dead Can Dance, 'Anastasis'

Contributing Music WriterAugust 27, 2012 

Loosely translated from Greek, the word anastasis means resurrection. It is a fitting title to Dead Can Dance's first studio album since 1996.

Aside from the assorted reunion tours, solo projects and anthologies in recent years, Anastasis brings the Australian duo of Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard — the Mulder and Scully of contemporary pop — back to creative life with another fascinating set of tunes that plucks at will from different lands and different centuries. In short, their music is beautifully unclassifiable. If one descriptive word had to be pinned to the group's collective lapel, it would probably need to be otherworldly.

On its acclaimed '80s and '90s albums for the 4AD label, Dead Can Dance created music that surveyed global plateaus. It weaved elements of Eastern ambience, Gregorian chant and richly percussive fabrics from multiple regions. But it was Gerrard who always tipped the stylistic scales into the unknown. She continues to specialize in a style of vocalizing known as glossolalia, in which speech-like sounds are employed in place of words. So to whatever nationality hears the music, the language will sound foreign.

Curiously, Anastasis keeps Gerrard in check at first by letting Perry have the vocal reign on the more conventional, English-language album opener Children of the Sun. Here, synths calmly ride in like medieval brass before a percussive roll that is half-militaristic and half-incantatory sets up a majestic sweep of pseudo-strings. The lyrics might be a touch on the celestial side, but the music is grand and transportive.

Gerrard then enters for Anastasis' title tune amid jungle-like giggles of electronics and modest percussive chants before a chiming keyboard melody glides in to pull the music's sense of Eastern intrigue into the Orient. Her singing, set slightly back in the mix and soaked in reverb, has raga-like solemnity one moment and operatic splendor the next.

The following song, Agape, settles into a Middle Eastern sway buoyed by a looped, contemporary groove. Gerrard's vocals, full of sage-like calm that seem a few steps removed from serenity, float above the music like a dispossessed spirit.

The concluding tune, All in Good Time, brings such fascination back to earth, but in the process, it sends us to another age of literal and metaphorical shipwrecks from the mysterious region of the North Atlantic called the Sargasso Sea. Perry wails with might for the plight of lost souls and the personal will for patience, while the melodies move at an elegant but glacial pace.

"Turn back your clocks, open up your memories," he sings as the keyboard orchestration swells with the drama of a latter-day Peter Gabriel album. That, in essence is what Dead Can Dance does with utmost grace on Anastasis. May its resurrection continue.

Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.

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