Culture

Familiar Waters Surround Enya’s Dark Sky Island

Story by Lukas Isenga, The Saint Reporter
Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Records

 

Released on the 20 of November, Irish songstress Enya has returned with another hymnal, following a seven-year absence since 2008’s And Winter Came.

While it would be foolish to say this album is not solidly part of the Enya trademark, which need not be derogatory: Dark Sky Island, sees Enya forging songs at her most enchanting.

Opening imperiously with “The Humming,” the album promises to be a self-conscious effort: “And only change is here to stay” sings Enya amidst her backing self-chorus, invoking 2000’s hit “Only Time.”

Naturally, harmonious humming fills this track, as it does many of the others.

Here, it is delightfully self-aware; by the latter third of the album, hummed bridges are too formulaic (even for Enya). This and slow lyrics abstracted to mere syllables in some songs occasionally work more against than for the record.

In fact, it seems sometimes two in one. The ever-present pounding strings and piano of one powerful song do not always transition well to the waltzing pizzicato of the next.

But when they do, the result is like the triumphant “Echoes in Rain.” Perhaps not one of lyricist Roma Ryan’s strongest, but “Here comes another new day” in a song that is purposefully “a continuation of ‘Orinoco Flow’ [the song from 1988’s Watermark that launched Enya into fame]. … [B]ut this is the journey home. It’s the excitement of that journey,” said Enya of the song, which was the last to be recorded for the album.

In this, Dark Sky Island is as much a celebration of the sound that made Enya famous as it is a reworking of it. While “Echoes in Rain” recalls Watermark, “Sancta Maria,” “The Loxian Gates,” and “The Forge of the Angels” equally recall themes from 1987’s Enya. The latter two, written in Roma Ryan’s Loxian language, present Enya at her most abstract, potentially also the Enya sound in its purest, all conveyed through flowing, marching vocals.

This cyclical journey is edified in the pulsing of each song. This is not Enya as a passive observer of the world beyond her castle, this is Enya voyaging victoriously through oceans of sound, thriving.

The exhorting and dulcet title track, “Dark Sky Island,” inspired by the starry skies of the light-pollution-free islands of Sark and Coll, is another highlight.

In all of this, in the slow sentiments and pounding orchestrations, there is the strength of the record: the incredible thematic closeness. Journeying is truly the theme of the album, even in such fare as the couplet formed by “Even in the Shadows” and bonus track “Remember Your Smile,” both featuring a lost love and an oddly contemporary, personal sound for Enya, as she carries on, rather than laments.

Enya may not be an artist who changes, but she is certainly one who knows exactly what she is doing. Variation is present, yet subtle, like her music in total. The reverse is that, never overstated, the most effective changes to form often come late in song and in record.

This work is hardly introductory Enya; she is at the epitome of her style here. If the harmonies and abstract lyrics of Enya’s thoroughly three-dimensional soundscape have not attracted you before, they will not here. Otherwise, gladly step into Enya’s celestial ship and prepare for the journey, home and to the stars.

Fittingly, it is not until the final track, “Diamonds on the Water,” that Enya truly settles down to dispense her patented pondering poetic. The bonus tracks of the deluxe version conflict slightly with this, mere anecdotes, save the uncharacteristically fast-and-fluted “Pale Grass Blue,” one of the strongest tracks.

Now, the journey over—until, as in “The Humming,” “…all of this begins again.”

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