Never Heard of 'Em: Dead Can Dance
Anna Minard claims to "know nothing about music." For this column, we force her to listen to random records by artists considered to be important by music nerds.
The Serpent's Egg
It's windy and cold outside, big burly clouds scooting across the tops of condos, everyone's summer-remnant patio umbrellas whipping in the wind, the light between tree branches winking on and off. Earlier today, a swarm of birds was moving en masse back and forth in front of the window in front of me, a swooping clot of wings, a free nature documentary.
I mention the window because I've been looking out it all day, and appreciating it. Our office has been turned into some noisy, disturbing S&M dungeon as they remove and replace a wall of windows, so that in place of windows is a big black zippered plastic-bag curtain shutting out all but the tiniest edges of light peeking out. I have elected to work from somewhere that is not such a horrible womb. And in doing so, I made the perfect choice. For listening to the strange angel choirs of Dead Can Dance with a perfect view of a gathering storm is exactly what I'd recommend to anyone.
I don't know what I was expecting, but most certainly not this. This sounds like landscapes, like skies. It starts with mostly chanting, then some bells, more chanting, then some organ. It's pretty much all chanting, bells, and organ (or synthesizer organ, I assume?). For variation from the chanting, there's some slow, drawn-out singing. There are occasional sort-of beats. At one point, knives or swords are swiped against each other, a shimmering unclang of metal.
With all these voices (air through vocal-cord tubes made of meat) and all this hollowness (air through organ tubes made of metal), the gray-white storm is set to a soundtrack that matches its metallic-air feeling. The branches of naked trees, crouching bushes, and wispy herbs all look like they're performing the right kind of shuddering dance for this airy drone.
The female voice reaches up high and then slides through notes outside of the Western scale, like if seals could sing—higher and more playful than whales, but still green-gray like the ocean. At the end, there are weird fairies.
It wasn't until I was almost done writing this (right exactly NOW) that I thought to wonder if I was supposed to laugh at these guys. Maybe they're goofy jerks who everyone remembers liking when they were a stoner 15-year-old? But it's too bad if that's true, because I liked this weird storm experience. Also, working alone is a surefire way to send me into the lonely zone, where the Velcro hooking me to the loops of the world starts to slip and uncatch.
I give this an "everyone knows it's windy" out of 10.