I’ve never written reviews before, for which reason today’s post might come as a surprise. However, I have good reason for starting now:
ENYA HAS RELEASED A NEW CD AFTER NEARLY SEVEN YEARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
In case my reaction didn’t give it away, Enya happens to be one of my favorite musical artists. I don’t turn crazy fan-girl for just anyone, either. She’s one of the lucky few. 😉 In fact, she’s a member of the select group of artists whose albums I will go out of my way to buy the day it is released–and by “album” I mean the actual physical CD.
So when her long-anticipated new album, “Dark Sky Island,” was announced to be released on November 20th, you cannot begin to imagine my celebration.
Enya–born Eithne Ni Bhraonain in County Donegal, Ireland–has been delighting the world with her unique, other-worldly music since the 80’s.
However, after the release of her last album “…And Winter Came” back in 2009, she decided to take a hiatus from recording. According to recent interviews, she felt both she and the music needed a break, so she could return refreshed. And although the community of loyal Enya fans has been impatient for new music, I daresay the reprieve was earned. After all, she hasn’t really taken a break between albums since she released “Watermark” in 1988. So I’ll forgive her for momentarily disappearing from the face of the earth.
Besides, her return has more than made up for it. At last, after several years of silence, this bright new jewel was revealed to the world:
*Heavenly choir sings*
The album has been playing on repeat in my car since the release day. It is everything I have come to expect from Enya: enchanting, ethereal, and captivating. Her music has the unique quality of both soothing and energizing me at the same time, of relaxing me yet holding my attention.
I read somewhere that she described the theme of this album as that of “journeys.” I certainly feel like I’m embarking on a journey–through time, places, and emotions–each time I listen. That is one of the things I appreciate most in her music–the storytelling aspect.
Very quickly then, I would like to share some of my thoughts and what I took away initially from each track.
TRACK 1: The Humming
This is a great opening number. It caught my attention, drew me in, and immediately comforted me with the sensation that this is most definitely Enya. New, yet familiar. The lyrics speak of the constant changing state of the universe and of the journey of life; this in combination with the minor key, dark harmonies, and flowing rhythms gives the song a sense of mystery which I find compelling.
TRACK 2: So I Could Find My Way
I seriously bawl every time I listen to this song, and yet it’s so beautiful I continue to voluntarily submit myself to the inevitable pain.
Enya dedicated this song to her producer’s (Nicky Ryan) mother, who recently passed away. It is incredibly personal and moving. The lyrics break my heart, but then mend the pieces back together every time:
“A thousand dreams you gave to me, You held me high, you held me high; And all those years you guided me so I could find my way.”
The melody is quite lyrical, and accentuates both the longing and the bittersweet joy that the memories of a passed loved one can bring. It is certainly sad; and yet, there’s an undercurrent of hope and thankfulness that runs under it all. In each verse, the refrain “You held me high,” is repeated, with Enya’s solo voice multiplied into an angelic choir, as if to magnify the love and appreciation.
TRACK 3: Even in the Shadows
This track is a little more upbeat, so it’s a nice contrast to the previous song; and I adore the harmonies. It makes me feel happy and energetic from the first measure–a little ironic, perhaps, since the lyrics aren’t necessarily “happy.” They communicate the “lost” feeling one can experience after the end of a relationship. But the upbeat, driving rhythm of the accompaniment seems to suggest that she hasn’t given up or fallen into despair, even though she doesn’t understand why it ended in the first place. I think that’s what sets this song apart from the “break-up” songs that pervade pop music–it doesn’t come across as whiny or resentful.
TRACK 4: The Forge of the Angels
This track showcases Enya’s talent as a storyteller. The lyrics are in Loxian, a fictional language created by Enya’s lyricist, Roma Ryan (wife to producer Nicky Ryan). Being the fantasy and linguistic geek that I am, I happen to think this is really cool. Still, since the listeners won’t know what she’s singing unless they look up the translation, it is basically up to Enya to craft music that conveys the story. And she definitely succeeded.
The pounding, percussive, accented rhythm perfectly resembles the sound of a hammer striking an anvil. And the ebb and flow of the voices emulates the feeling of a “work song,” such as might be chanted in rhythm with the hammer strokes.
My favorite part is when the music suddenly changes keys about halfway through without warning. In addition to this direct modulation, the volume and intensity of the music increases, as if more and more voices are joining in. Then, just like that, it modulates back to the original key in uniquely Enya-esque fashion.
(And in case you’re wondering, the lyrics are about the mysteries of eternity and the brevity of life, and appreciating the journey we are on).
This is another upbeat, fun song, with plenty of pizzicato strings for accompaniment–practically an Enya trademark. The lyrics speak of the flow of the days along the journey of life. Each verse ends with the phrase, “Here comes another new day,” which seems to suggest that each day is a new beginning (and, I would add, a gift from God–which perhaps is why she sings the chorus of “Alleluias”).
Enya said this song is meant to be a “sequel” of sorts to one of her most famous songs–the one that started it all, in a way: “Orinoco Flow” (a.k.a. “Sail Away”). In fact, “Echoes in Rain” ends with the exact same vocal motif as its predecessor. Quite a nice way to look back on her beginnings and how far she’s come.
Track 6: I Could Never Say Goodbye
With this track, Enya slows it down again to bring us back to a more sober and meditative state. The lyrics are a message to a loved one separated by distance. Each word is stretched out with an unhurried delivery, as if to savor the thoughts and memories of that loved one. The music likewise is full of yearning, to mirror the desire to see each other again.
And when she reaches the chorus, her voice suddenly soars high in pitch, as if reaching out, desperate to bring the loved one back home:
“I could never say goodbye to the sadness in my eyes. You know you are in my heart…” But then she descends once again in resignation as she finishes with, “But the miles keep us apart.”
Track 7: Dark Sky Island
This song is a reference to the island of Sark in the Channel Islands. It was the first ever designated “dark sky island,” meaning it is kept free of artificial light pollution so the sky remains as dark and clear as possible.
The song begins with a choir of Enyas humming the soothing melody. Then she sings:
“Listen to the waves become the blue voice of the sea, and they whisper as they touch the shore: ‘Come back to me, come back to me.'”
It’s a lovely, simple, playful melody with a sense of contentment, as if one could easily decide to stay there forever. Then the music takes an unexpected turn with a rather interesting chorus, harmonically speaking. It grabs your attention and makes you sit just a little straighter, as the Enya choir names various stars and constellations [which I was rather impressed with myself for knowing without looking up 😛 ]:
“Capella; Auriga; Eta Carinae; Sagitta; Aquila; Alpha Centauri.”
It’s as if, looking up into the deep, dark sky of Sark, she points out all these stars in their brilliance…and you feel the island calling you back.
TRACK 8: Sancta Maria
This is a rather repetitive, yet delightful piece, with the Enya choir in full glory, accompanied mostly by synthesizer. There’s some very nice counterpoint here, intermingling with the bright accompaniment that reminds me almost of church bells.
TRACK 9: Astra et Luna
Latin for “stars and moon,” this song is seriously the perfect accompaniment for star gazing. It begins with an almost deceptive intro, which is soft and flowing, lulling you into a trance as you drink in the beauty of the sky. Then, suddenly, the music takes off into a rhythmic march, with pizzicato strings once again leading the way.
My favorite part about the song is how it evolves. Even after it takes off into its march, the volume stays fairly low and Enya sings solo, with sparse chordal accompaniment. With each new verse, however, the music grows. It gets a little louder, more voices are added, and the accompaniment increases in complexity.
When listening to this song, I feel like I am drifting through space, watching a celestial procession of stars, galaxies, nebulae, and more. It reminds me of the awe and wonder I always feel when gazing up at the night sky.
TRACK 10: The Loxian Gates
On just about every album, Enya has one song that I describe as “the chant.” On such songs, she typically favors a strong percussion section to drive a steady pulse, as the Enya choir “chants” a tune. It ends up with an almost tribal feel to it, which I really like. “The Loxian Gates” is the newest version of that idea. Again based on the fictional language created by Roma Ryan, the lyrics tell the story of the formation of the fictional world of the Loxians, with each stage in its development compared to the seasons. And each verse ends with the declaration, “But our quest is not yet over.” The song positively pulses with life and joy.
TRACK 11: Diamonds on the Water
A mellow, peaceful song, its lyrics beckon you to listen to the river, then listen to her heartbeat, as the sound of summer whispers all around. Then the rays of the sun turn into diamonds on the water. I have a similar description of a river at one point in my story I’m writing, actually. So my first reaction was, “hey, that was my idea!” But then I decided I’m cool with sharing it with Roma–and through her, Enya. 😉 It makes us feel like kindred spirits.
I love the piano accompaniment, the warmth of her voice, and the relaxing harmonies.
BONUS TRACKS (because, why wouldn’t I buy the deluxe edition??)
This is a very touching and vulnerable piece. The lyrics are simply beautiful:
What can I do to comfort you? Don’t hide away in solitude. What can I say to show the way? Let tears become a soft rain.
Why do you hide the loss inside? The love you feel is in your eyes. Why do you go upon this road? When you could find your way home?
That’s it. The song is short and simplistic in its delivery. But that’s how it should be. This is one of those songs that was meant to be bare, to let the beauty and emotion shine through rather than getting overpowered by dominating accompaniment. Here she whispers words of solace and comfort into the ear of the broken-hearted.
Pale Grass Blue
Many of Enya’s songs “feel” like a season to me. I’m not sure why that is. Yet some just seem to embody a particular season and invoke mental pictures of that time of year. This song has a pleasant “spring” feel to me. It makes me think of comfortable weather, sunny days, and budding flowers. The refrain, “Sun is high above and winds are still enough and all I want to do is stay,” perfectly illustrates the mood. It just makes me want to sigh and breathe in the beautiful day. An argument could by made, I suppose, for the image of a lazy summer day rather than spring. But I live in Texas, where summer is anything but a pleasant experience. So, spring it is! 😉
Remember Your Smile
I love how this song captures the beauty and joy of warm memories a loved one leaves behind. Even when they’re no longer with us, we still remember their smile. We focus on the good times spent together. The word that I think best captures the mood of this piece is “gratefulness.”
One thing that particularly stood out to me is how the song ends almost abruptly. It took me off guard the first time I listened to it. One minute she’s singing a new verse:
“Each one has a journey, that’s how it goes. Sometimes we’re together, sometimes alone.”
And the music just stops right after the last word, “alone.” No repeat of the refrain, no extended accompaniment. It just ends. I really like the symbolism of this. I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but it gives me chills every time.
So that’s my two cents on the new album, for what it’s worth.
There is one thing that I noticed wasn’t on the new album: an instrumental piece. Of course, it’s her album and she’s allowed to do what she wants with her music. 😛 I just observed the lack of instrumental pieces, because every previous album she’s released has always had at least one. However, this in no way detracted from my enjoyment of Dark Sky Island.
Enya’s albums always seem to have distinct characters, yet certain unifying elements between them all as well. To the unfamiliar ear, this unity leads to the common complaint: “Enya’s OK, but her music all sounds the same.”
Whilst trying not to bristle with indignation, my response is that yes, there are certain elements that her songs have in common; but there are so many layers to each song that I never tire of listening to any of them, because each time I feel like I experience something new, something that I didn’t notice the previous times. It’s thrilling to me. I can get lost inside her music in a way I don’t with almost any other artist.
I most often describe Enya’s voice as “motherly.” There is a warmth and tenderness there that has always enchanted me, since the very first time I heard her sing. It is basically the aural equivalent of cuddling under a blanket next to a glowing fire, with a book in one hand and hot drink in the other.
And her music has that inexplicable and almost magical quality of welcoming one home with warm smiles, fond memories, and a loving embrace. Yet, alongside this peace and tranquility, there is a drawing of your soul into adventures both old and new. For, to me, Enya’s music is most like a good book, one that you read over and over again: it’s welcoming and comforting, but also exciting. No matter how many times you pick it up to read again, the thrill of the adventure, the discovery of overlooked details, the spark of the imagination, and the reunion with favorite moments are always there.
So thank you, Eithne, Nicky and Roma, for another beautiful and inspiring album. I look forward to returning to this particular journey for many years to come.