I’ve always been drawn to, for lack of a better term, the darker side of Enya.
For almost 20 years, the Irish, New Age singer has enchanted the world with her lush, solo melodies – songs that celebrate the wonders of the natural and celestial worlds; the siren call of adventure; the strength of the human spirit in withstanding adversity; the thrumming heart of love in its myriad forms; and the wonder and mystery of God.
Every song she creates is like a sculpture of glass – a graceful yet solid construction of layered otherworldly vocals, soaring instrumentation, chief among which is the piano, and dreamy lyrics sung in one of at least four different languages.
I’ve loved Enya’s music for more than half of my life – longer than any other artist I enjoy today. Her third album, Shepherd Moons was the first CD I ever owned back in 1993 or so, followed by her fourth release, The Memory of Trees, a short time later.
I was a fan even earlier than that, though.
In those days long before the now ubiquitous on-demand music services, let alone before one could search the internet for the name and composer of any earworm both heard yet not heard on radio, I clearly recall having been mesmerized by an stirring chorus and resounding tempo of SAIL AWAY, SAIL AWAY, SAIL AWAY.
For years afterward I searched in vain for the source of this seemingly divine imperative.
This, of course, was “Orinoco Flow”, the breakout track from Enya’s second album, Watermark, which, along with countless other people, was the song that truly drew me to her side.
Sail away, she beckoned – a guiding light or waymarker along a grand adventure of life made flesh. And in the many years since high school, I have sailed, constantly keeping Enya’s music close to my heart and imagination like the voice of a guardian angel.
“Twilight comes to close the day”
But I’ve always found myself particularly drawn to Enya’s darker tracks, such as they are.
There’s the slow, concentrated, minor key melody of “St. Patrick”; the eerie, understated chanting of “Pax Deorum”; the ominous, insistent build of ”Cursum Perficio”; the stilted, commanding power of “Tempus Vernum” (Latin for “Springtime”), like something being conjured from beyond the grave. Plus, her many of other, less foreboding songs that deal with night and darkness in their subject matter: “Evening Falls”, “Eclipse”, “Last Time By Moonlight”, and “Aldebaran”.
So when I recently found out that not only was Enya set to release a new album – her first non-holiday album in ten years – but that the album would be called Dark Sky Island, I was doubly excited.
The title “Dark Sky Island” makes reference to the island of Sark, located in the Channel Islands in the southwestern English Channel.
Sark is Europe’s first Dark Sky Community and the first Dark Sky Island in the world. This means that Sark’s night sky is sufficiently dark to engage in astronomy with the naked eye – an achievement aided by the island’s geographic location, it’s car-free status, an absence of street lighting, and the requirement for residents to site their personal lights in such a way as to minimize light pollution.
Dark Sky Island is unapologetically an Enya album. Over the 20 years of her solo career, she has developed a signature sound that some fans often indicate they wish she would expand.
Personally, I believe she already subtly has. Although the first single, “Echoes in Rain”, is quite reminiscent of “Orinoco Flow” – no doubt to both recall old fans to her sound after so many years and help acclimatize new ones – I find Dark Sky Island much more somber than Enya’s previous releases, with a greater number of songs possessing a disheartened, wistful tone or undertone of loss and uncertainty.
As I listened to the album for the first time, one such song that quickly caught my attention and demanded an immediate replay was track 3, “Even in the Shadows”, with its rhythmic melody, its pensive bridge, and syncopated chorus of I could FALL and KEEP on FALLing/I could CALL and KEEP on CALLing/Wonder WHY this LOVE is OVer/Wonder WHY it’s NOT FORevermore.
“And on the road are you and me”
Another early favourite was the very first track, “The Humming…”. This song, which is about the cycles of life and matter throughout the universe, has a slow, stately cadence as if meaning to move one along on a long march well past midnight.
This is a sense I find pervades the entire album – this sense of movement from here to some as-yet-unknown destination. There are a lot of rhythmic, measured melodies, a lot of insistent drum beats, a lot of repeated phrases of lyrics that pull the listener along like footsteps.
Enya herself, in her video on the making of the album, indicates that its overall theme is one of a journey.
“Night has gone without my tears”
I myself have lived in a Dark Sky Community: one of the national parks I worked for during my past career with Canada’s national park service.
Many people have never experienced true darkness like that, unbroken by streetlights and lamps in windows and household motion sensor lights – a blackness that all but devours the beam of your flashlight under a new moon and casts everything in a muted blue glow when the moon is full.
Darkness like that is a place where secrets lose the suffocating, unforgiving power they hold over you; where words you’d never dare speak during the day spring unbidden to your lips and answers to private questions escape in a rush of relief.
The album’s title track – the longest track on the album and my overall favourite – is a combination waltz and lullaby about change and the difficulty of forever letting go:
Listen to the waves become
the blue voice of the sea,
and they whisper as they touch the shore:
“Come back to me, come back to me.”
During the bridge of this song, Enya glides down to the lower portion of her range in a way I can’t recall from any of her past albums, the richness and emotion of which gives me chills.
Also lovely is the ballad “I Could Never Say Goodbye”, a song of lost love, be it romantic or otherwise, with a melancholy minor second interval as part of the chorus.
“Astra et Luna” – Latin for stars and moon – is an aria with an introspective tone and that same sense of movement, slower this time, that I mentioned before.
Finally, following this song is the climax of the album: “The Loxian Gates” – another song for marching – that’s sung Loxian, the invented language of by Enya’s long-time lyricist Roma Ryan. If the theme for the album is that of a journey, this song seems to represent that last difficult push up the last big hill before one’s triumphant arrival at the final destination.
Dark Sky Island is a worthy addition to Enya’s catalogue of music – a new personal favourite that I anticipate replaying many days – and nights – and years to come.
What new music are you listening to these days? What recording artist have you loved for most of your life? Let me know in the comments.
Title and sub-heading lyrics songs (from Dark Sky Island, 2015):
- “The Humming…”
- “Dark Sky Island”
- “The Humming…”
- “I Could Never Say Goodbye”