Music

Dead Can Dance: Memento: The Very Best of Dead Can Dance

Adam Besenyodi

When taken in context with the entire Dead Can Dance catalog, the third US retrospective seems unnecessary and designed solely to line the coffers.


Dead Can Dance

Memento: the Very Best of Dead Can Dance

Label: Rhino
US Release Date: 2005-10-18
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Dead Can Dance, along with label mates Cocteau Twins and the original Clan of Xymox, helped define the 4AD sound in the early '80s. And that sound doesn't lend itself to singles so much as to moods, and the deep cuts often hide an album's greatest riches. Because of that, Dead Can Dance is a whole album experience. A best of collection is really only a sampler for a band like this, so the question becomes, "Is this a strong sampler and, being the band's third US retrospective, is it even warranted?"

In the early '80s, Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard migrated from Australia to London, and joined the 4AD stable in 1984. And it is here that they blossomed with seven studio albums and an excellent document of their live show (Toward the Within) before officially disbanding in 1999. The first Dead Can Dance retrospective, 1991's A Passage in Time, was also their first proper US release and does a good job capturing the band's work up to that time. Two years later, Into the Labyrinth was their first US studio release and the best album of their career.

Memento: The Very Best of Dead Can Dance concentrates heavily on late-career highlights, with a third of the tracks coming from Into the Labyrinth and another third coming from either Toward the Within or the box set, Dead Can Dance 1981-1998. All of the pre-Into the Labyrinth tracks are available on A Passage in Time and all but one track, Into the Labyrinth's "Ariadne", can be found on the box set.

This new disc opens with "Nierika", the lone representative from Dead Can Dance's final studio effort, 1996's Spiritchaser, before presenting their best known and most well-crafted song, Into the Labyrinth's "The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove". The song is a showcase for the all the elements that made Dead Can Dance a singular musical experience. It opens with rattling electronic world beats that segue into a Middle Ages folk feel with wind instrumentals. Perry's vocals here are his very best work, blending elements of Sinatra and Neil Diamond. The listener moves with Perry from confused lover to snarling condemner to disgusted ex over the course of the song.

From 1987's Within the Realm of a Dying Sun, "Cantara" pulses and churns in on itself for nearly two minutes before the percussion suddenly and brilliantly blind-sides the listener. Sweeping beats and Middle Eastern vocals plant this song in both another world and another time. "The Lotus Eaters" has the distinction of being the last track Perry and Gerrard recorded together before parting ways and was only previously available on Dead Can Dance 1981-1998 and the 2003 UK-only retrospective, Wake. The song is a clear indicator that the creative well was not dry when the relationship ended. The heavy world beats and orchestral arrangements presented here are offset by sweeping strings and Gerrard's eerie vocal styling.

Long-standing fans of Dead Can Dance will already have the albums and the Dead Can Dance 1981-1998 compendium. Those who came to the band with Into the Labyrinth picked up at least A Passage in Time to fill in the blanks, if not the entire back catalog. And when considering the breadth and depth of the comprehensive box set, it makes it hard to not go down the cynic's path and assume this is an effort to cash in on Perry and Gerrard reforming to tour under the Dead Can Dance banner this year. Memento: The Very Best of Dead Can Dance is weak and unnecessary when held up against previous entries in this distinctive and exceptional band's catalog.

4

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less
Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image