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    Enya’s Dark Sky Island: a Review

    By John Beemer

    Defining Enya’s music is something most people struggle with—the press, fans, and the musician herself, included. Most people lump her in with New Age, but that doesn’t quite fit. Her sound draws from Irish folk and church music, but that doesn’t quite capture it, either. It’s hard to label something when there really isn’t something to compare it to. There just aren’t other artists out there with Enya’s signature sound: layered vocals, synths, and strings, mixed with lyrics from various languages—some even fictional. Her music is singular, timeless.

    But, I concede that Enya isn’t for everyone. Generally, she’s one of those artists people either love or hate. Enya herself is an enigma: she lives in a castle in Ireland (with Bono as her neighbor, coincidentally), doesn’t tour, and releases albums with several-years-long gaps in between. The mainstream musical press usually just tolerates her—dismisses her albums as glorified elevator music, something inoffensive and sweet that you’d include in a Christmas gift-basket, or, harsher yet, the musical equivalent of a sedative. However, her latest album, Dark Sky Island, has impressed many music critics as something fresh and new, while echoing the motifs that have captivated listeners worldwide.

    Dark Sky Island is one of Enya’s best albums, certainly better than her previous two, and is a refreshing evolution of her style. The brooding initial track, “The Humming,” is dark, questioning—the singer unsure: “all the stars without a name, all the skies that look the same.” Then there’s the eponymous hum of Enya’s voice—deep, resonant—reminiscent of the vocals from one of her first songs: “Boadicea,” from all the way back in 1987.

    This album features many of the motifs from earlier Enya albums. In “Sancta Maria,” the opening swells of synths and, I’m guessing, electric dulcimer could come straight from her 1992 album, The Celts. The first single, “Echoes in Rain,” reincarnates the theme of journeys and optimism of Enya’s first hit, “Orinoco Flow.” On several tracks, there are the usual invocations of astral bodies, a motif whose source stretches to the beginning of Enya’s discography (“Aldebaran”).

    There are many exciting new touches, too. Title track “Dark Sky Island” features an invigorating bridge, pulling from Enya’s rare deeper register. With its pulsing drum and lilting vocals, “The Loxian Gates” could find its home on any fantasy film soundtrack. “Diamonds on the Water” plays around with dissonance, which is an interesting surprise, and on “The Forge of the Angels” Viking-like chants drift from behind a cloud of strings.

    The first music I fell in love with was Enya, and I return to her albums almost ritually to renew myself. Each of her songs evokes a particular memory. Dark Sky Island is immediately like-able, but also has plenty of richness to draw audiences back for years to come.

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