The return of Dead Can Dance

20:52, Oct 28 2012

Anastasis has been going around in my car's stereo for weeks now. It's been flowing through me. It wafts, it courses, it strives and pulses - the production is stunning. It's so crisp. Picture-perfect. In fact I imagine still photographs that would go with this music as I walk in time with it. Anastasis has been accompanying me on many walks too - via the iPod. And it remains wonderful driving music. Late night drives, especially.

Anastasis is the new album by Dead Can Dance, the band's first record in over a decade.

Since 1996, Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard have been working independently, releasing their own music. There was a brief Dead Can Dance reunion in the mid-00s but now there's a full tour on the back of this album. I hope we get to see them in New Zealand. Could that happen? I really hope so.

At the time when I was a huge Dead Can Dance fan I also had a lot of Gerrard's solo work to enjoy. And have continued to listen to her work away from the band - and some of Perry's too. But Gerrard perhaps proved herself most successful as a soundtrack composer. Her work was used to stunning effect in the films Gladiator and Ali and I used to enjoy The Whale Rider score also. There are other soundtracks she's provided - and most of her work in this area is strong. It feels as though it has informed Anastasis. This makes sense. All part of the continuum. All part of the loop. All part of the artists progressing, moving on, coming back to earlier and obvious influences, all part of transcending the pop-song paradigm.

But actually it's Perry's work away from Dead Can Dance that the new album sounds more like. And it's a reminder of the band's sound from back in the day. It feels as though it could have been released a year after their last album. It feels like an album they could have waited another 10 years from now and still delivered in this way, with this sound.

The best tracks on Anastasis are revelatory for me - I can overlook hippie-worldview lyrics that would probably make me cringe if I saw them written down (such as on the opener, Children of the Sun) it's worth it for the magic. And there's something so perfect in their sound for me. It's music that transports, music that envelops. Music that involves the listener; you feel implicated. (And placated).


Kiko is a glorious standout, but then so is Opium, they arrive together to anchor the album. I also love Anabasis and Agape - hearing this music takes me back to the earlier Dead Can Dance albums. And to the times I had when listening so intently to this music. So much of it felt like it was only for me, that I was the only one hearing it - or the only one who had ever heard it. Each conversation with a Dead Can Dance fan felt like something truly precious, the sharing of a secret - you knew the rest of the world wouldn't know or care.

So I mention Anastasis today because it's another in a long line of albums this year that I've loved for two reasons - first and most important, for how good I think they are; for what the album offers for me and to me. But also - and almost as important, certainly as rewarding - the album takes me back to the earlier work by the artist; gives me cause - when, perhaps I haven't had it in some time, to go back to albums I loved so much for such a long time and then forgot about them in the busy scheme of things.

It's happened with artists from recent times too - artists with a discography confined to this decade. I've mentioned in recent weeks Matthew Dear's new album and Grizzly Bear's new one and they've been triggers to go back to other records from those artists. The same is true with the new Dirty Projectors album.

And then there are other favourite albums from this year from artists I've been listening to for a long time - the new music is strong in its own right but it's also a potent reminder of earlier magic. That was the case with the new Bill Fay record. I love it. But it was a good reason to go back and reconnect with his earlier material.

I've talked often of the new Paul Buchanan album - easily a contender for my favourite of the year. One of the things I've loved about that, probably due to interviewing him, was the nudge to head back to The Blue Nile. I'm never far from The Blue Nile's music but this year I gave Peace at Last a lot more time than I ever have. As a result of Buchanan's album Mid Air. Peace at Last is still the weakest of the four albums (five - if you count Mid Air as part of the one discography) but it's still, in places, a very good album; at least it's a worthwhile listen. And someone sent me a copy of a bootlegged Blue Nile show from 1990. That was a treat.

I talked about Dinosaur Jr getting better with each album - one of few bands to really deliver with their reunion albums. And again I'm never that far away from Dino J albums but this year's fantastic release did send me back to their catalogue for so many good records.

At the start of the year, Van Halen's new album was the first to offer such a reminder. A lot of the material on the Van Halen album has been around, in some form, for a while. Many of the songs are not new but it was still a new recording; the first new album from the group in over a decade and at the very least you could say it almost makes up for the album Van Halen III; almost makes you forget that ever happened. Almost. I think A Different Kind of Truth is as good as you could hope a Van Halen album in 2012 to be. Much like Leonard Cohen's Old Ideas was exactly that: the best that Cohen could give the world right here, right now. And I mean that sincerely - both are decent albums.

So many artists get it wrong when they try to remind fans of the magic. You can almost hear them trying - trying so very hard and failing. All of these artists I've mentioned have traced around the best aspects of their best work but moved on in other ways, headed off in some new directions.

The absolute best example for me this year has been Dr John's new album. Okay, it might not be a patch on those truly great Dr John albums (I happen to think it's pretty darn close), but I wrote about so much of what I love about Dr John in part because of the prompt from the latest album. I've listened to so much of his older material this year with new fervour, but I also love the new album.

And that's how I feel about this new one from Dead Can Dance.

It'll be back to Aion, Into the Labyrinth and Toward the Within for me. It'll be back to Spiritchaser and to the debut, self-titled album. It'll be back to Perry and Gerrard's solo works too. And onward, for a long time to come, with Anastasis.

The return of Dead Can Dance is also, for me, a return to Dead Can Dance.

Has that happened for you this year? And if so with what new albums from old bands? And have you heard Anastasis? What do you think? Are you a Dead Can Dance fan? You can hear the entire album here.

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