Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Speaking of Both Music And The Spoken Word...

Well, yet another birthday has gone into the scrapbook, and, as always, my loving (but increasingly absent) wife gave me several wonderful presents. As always, she included at least one CD, in this case Enya's new album, Amarantine. It is certainly interesting.

Not that Enya's music has changed a whole lot. Sure, her musical style has gone through stages over the past two decades. Her first album, originally titled simply Enya but now known as The Celts, was a spacey dreamscape. This was followed by her breakthrough album, the very sentimental, classical Watermark. After that, she took a decidedly romantic turn with the almost too sweetly melodic Shepherd Moon. Memory of Trees seemed bolder and more passionate, with some very strong melodies that still tend to pop up as BGM for TV commercials. The next one after that, A Day Without Rain, seemed like a sort of recap of all her past themes compiled together under one roof. And then, after that, she scored a solid hit with the tunes that she did for the Lord of the Rings movies, particularly the first one. Yes, Enya's music has gone through different turns, but it has always remained unmistakably Enya. Her sound is still very much her sound, as it always has been, and it is immediately recognizable.

So, what's the take on Amarantine? Well, it's still very obviously Enya, but she seems to have taken a turn for the spacey dreamscapes again. The reason I say that is not just the music, either. The lyrics this time around represent a radical change for her. From her first album, she always sang in either English, Latin, or her native Irish. This time there is no Latin and, surprisingly, no Irish, either. Most of the songs are in English. However, one is in Japanese. There are also three that are in...


Loxian is an alien language apparently invented by Enya's longtime working partner and lyricist, Roma Ryan. The CD insert gives the lyrics of the three Loxian songs in the "native" script plus English translations. No other explanation is given except that Roma Ryan created the language for a book she recently published called "Water Shows the Hidden Heart" (also the title of one of the songs on the album). The songs are beautiful, but it is definitely a radical departure for the hitherto intransigent Enya.

So why did she do it? Well, she says that English, Irish, and Latin are "too cumbersome" and therefore not much fun to sing in. Loxian, on the other hand, was designed from the start to have a lyrical, euphonic quality to facilitate singing. I can't really say that it's strange to sing in invented, alien tongues since, in my home recordings, I have sung in Ehrkiss, Hr'Gal'ad, Fas Standard, and Soeki, all languages that I came up with for my various writings and RPG set in my so-called Impasse universe. (If you don't know what that's about, it's probably best to forget it.) However, something like that seems a bit out of place for someone like Enya, so I have to wonder whether her true motive is to compete with another recently very popular artist in the same genre, Adiemus.

For those of you not familiar with Adiemus, it is actually a project conceived and produced by composer Karl Jenkins. It has been getting a lot of airplay recently, especially on the TV as BGM for news programs and commercials. The music is basically classical with ethnic and electronic influences. However, its most readily identifiable feature is its prominent vocals, which feature singer Miriam Stockley and sometimes other female artists singing in what was called "invented language" on the first few albums and "expanded phonetics" after that. In other words, the lyrics are gibberish pieced together out of phonetic sounds taken from various world languages. The music is quite good, and it's generally quite enjoyable to listen to, but I often feel the obvious, total meaninglessness of the singing lessens the effect somewhat.

I mean, even when Enya sang in Irish, which I don't understand, it still felt like she understood, and that gave the music more impact. I don't get that sense with Adiemus at all. And now, even though Roma Ryan has clearly made an impressive and very serious effort with her "Loxian" language, it still doesn't seem like Enya really feels the words she's singing. She's just making sounds, like Adiemus does. Don't think that I'm criticizing the music at all; as I said, this is some real quality stuff, and I know I will be listening to it a lot. However, at this time of writing, I'm not thoroughly convinced of the artistic approach. Time is probably exactly what is needed for me to appreciate it fully.

If you like "new age" (I prefer to call it "eclectic") or classical music, you ought to check out Amarantine. If you're not familiar with Adiemus or with Enya's other works, I'd recommend looking into those, as well. Your take may be very different from mine.


  • Okay...let me be the first to comment on my own post. Now that I've given Amarantine a few more good listenings, I felt I should give an update.

    Today I actually listened to Amarantine twice, back-to-back. I'm sure that doesn't mean much to you, but for me it's extremely unusual. No matter how much I like an album, I usually can't stand listening to it more than once at a time. After that, I have to listen to something else before coming back to it. The fact that, after listening to Amarantine once, I felt compelled to listen to it again means it gets high marks from me.

    As for the three songs sung in Loxian, it didn't take me long to warm up to them, and I did find myself getting drawn into the mood at least as much as with the Irish and Latin songs on her other albums. I think the fact that I know those lyrics have meaning, and the translation is given in the liner notes (unlike the Latin and Irish songs, which are NEVER translated), helps a lot.

    Yes, definitely a serious effort, and well done.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 9:09 PM  

  • Unfortunately for me, my employer has a lo-fi Enya album playing as hold music and has for the last 4 1/2 years.

    I doubt I could give her a fair listening anymore because I am bloody sick of it.

    I'm more of a Loreena McKennitt and Katie McMahon listener nowadays when my mood turns towards the Isles.

    beaytu - Loxian word for pretty.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 1:47 AM  

  • Happy Bassday. Enya = elevator music in Canada or Seven Eleven music in Japan.
    Wait, no. I changed my mind. Glay is Seven Eleven music in Japan. ALL Seven Eleven music is either a rip off of Glay or it is Glay.
    Now, the question is. Did the band spell Gray wrong? Isn't it Grey? Like the Grey Cup? Oh, and without the L.

    By Anonymous Jeff Nicholson, at 6:45 PM  

  • Is that pronounced Loksian or Lotion?

    By Blogger Vulgarius, at 8:28 AM  

  • I just got Amarantine for Christmas, and I love it. (It's actually funny that you posted this to your blog - I was going to recommend the album to you!) My first listening of it was like "hey, didn't she do that song before?" A lot of it is similar to past stuff, but then, how many different ways can you really do Enya?

    My favorite new song is "The River Sings". I don't know why, but it conjurs up an image of a fast flowing (but not turbulent) river flowing through a heavily forested area, with Elves, not quite visible, singing a wonderful tune. I get lost in that song!

    I have a special fondness for Enya music: I was heavily into it when my Mom died, and so I often think of her when I listen to her music.

    Snabby, I can appreciate how a loop of any music can ruin its flavor! Maybe you can convince your employer to change to something else, like a boy band. Then you'd be bloody sick of it, and rightly so!

    By Blogger DewKid, at 9:42 AM  

  • The Japanese tune is Sumiregusa. What does that mean? (I suppose it's probably printed in the album sleevelet, but since I usually rip the Mp3s, and leave the CD at home, I can't check on it right now)


    Okay, I just googled it: apparently it means "Wild Violet".

    By Blogger DewKid, at 9:46 AM  

  • The kanji "sumire" (菫) means violet, and "kusa" (草) means grass. Put them together, and you do, indeed, get "wild violet". However, as my wife couldn't wait to point out to me, the word (菫草) is actually read "sumireso" nowadays (though it may have been "sumiregusa" in classical Japanese).

    You know, it really stinks when one's appreciation of music is wrecked by technology. Fortunately, phone hold BGM is usually cute, pocket video game music, and elevators of any kind are extremely rare in my corner of Japan. As for the "elevator music" played in all the local drugstores and supermarkets, it all seems to be the same harmonica player.

    Actually, the English songs on Amarantine are pretty much classical pop (pop classical?) like almost all of her last two albums and much of the two before that. However, the three Loxian and one Japanese songs are more stylistically reminiscent of her very first album, The Celts, i.e. much "spacier" and more artistic. I think you can guess which songs on the album I like best.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 8:23 PM  

  • You should join the Enya unity forum and besides if you don't like the album listen to the single instead that is more classical enya and very new if you want new, but in my opinion Trust me "Heah Viiya" "Ea hymm Llay Hey" and "Syoombrraya" Are really wonderful songs. I think this is new Enya.

    By Anonymous Roy, at 4:10 AM  

  • Thanks for stopping by, Roy!

    Actually, I really like this much that I've been listening to it constantly (relatively speaking) for the past week (which is as long as I've had it).

    I have all of Enya's LPs including Paint the Sky with Stars, and I really like ALL of them. Enya (together with the Ryan duo) has been among my favorite artist/composers since I first heard Watermark back in the '80s. However, as with any artist, some of her work appeals to me more than others, rather like the difference between good, really good, great, and fantastic. Even my least favorite among her work is still among my favorite music in general.

    As I mentioned before, I thought her first album, The Celts was ironically her most artful, as she experimented more with her synths and vocal sounds rather than focusing mainly on melody and lyrics, as she did in her later works. In that respect, Amarantine is a refreshing return to artfulness, so to speak, as she (and Roma Ryan) is starting to experiment again.

    Okay, 'nuff said.

    Oh, and by the way Vulgarius, there is another possibility for the pronunciation of "Loxian". In every language using the Roman alphabet except English, "x" is read the same way as German "ch" as in "ich". As Roma Ryan loves to play with languages (like me), it's possible that it's pronounced [German] "lochian". I dunno.

    Hello, Roma? Can you fill us in?

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:05 PM  

  • Nothing like a little Enya, a tall glass of lemonade, and a hot buttery corn-on-the-cob to make your day a memorable one! Amarantine, friend, Amarantine.

    By Blogger Corn Cob Bob, at 10:57 AM  

  • You speaking of singing in alien language reminds me of another game music producers play - backmasking. Hear it forward, it's gibberish; hear it backward, voila, we found something.

    Just for fun...

    By Blogger YD, at 10:29 AM  

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