Retrofitted: Minstrel Rock Part the Second (feat’g Dead Can Dance, Beirut & The Decemberists)

…Being Part the Second (and final really) of my “Minstrel Rock” reverie.

If you missed the intro, Minstrel Rock Part the First, click here for the introduction and description of said “made-up” sub-genre.  And/or, if you’d prefer a more expansive medley click on the following playlist: Of Minstrels, Maidens, and Men.

Now where were we? Oh yes, moving into more contemporary (e.g. post-classic rock) periods.

Dead Can Dance‘s Into The Labyrinth Into_labyrinth_-_dead_can_dance– Fast forward nearly two decades to post-Thatcher England with the duo of Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry (although the two are originally from Australia), known as Dead Can Dance, one of the many innovative and ground-breaking pioneers of the 4AD label that helped usher in the post-punk British sound that veered towards baroque and layered orchestration (other bands included the Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil). Of the numerous DCD releases, this one in particular holds a near and dear place in my heart because it was the unintended yet undeniable soundtrack to my freshman year of college given that my roommate played it with great frequency. Although foreign and unknown to me at the time, I grew to love and become entranced by the blend of English and Irish Folks sensibilities blended with their (re)interpretation of Middle Eastern, Far Eastern, and Oceania musical traditions and sounds. Into the Labyrinth is a fulsome palette of aural bliss that like the records listed in the previous post evokes both distant lands and the distant past (at least to this listener). (How is that for some “otherizing” and orientalism that would ruffle the feathers of Ed Said? For the record I try to avoid doing this as much as possible but there are times when words elude me.) The vocal performances move from guttural earth-hewn bass to the angelic arias to soothsaying and snake-charming. To me this album has always been a place of solace and anodyne. A deliberate break from traditional pop-rock conventions that presage and perhaps inspired the rise of ambient-downtempo electronica that would manifest itself in the early 90s underground and filter through into the indie-electronic-dance movement of the early 00s and today. If you are listening at work, prepare to be induced to slumber. If you are (more appropriately) listening at home, dim the lights and prepare to cozy up to a cocktail of soporific effects (for the record, Sleepytime Tea counts). (Note: for the vinyl enthusiasts, the Mo-Fi Reissue is stunningly done and worth tracking down. Order here.)

Listen → Dead Can Dance’s Into The Labyrinth

If you like Into the Labyrinth, then you might want to try SpiritchaserCocteau Twins’ Blue Bell Knoll or This Mortal Coil’s It’ll End In Tears.

Beirut’s Gulag Orkestar gulag orkestarWhen I first heard this record, I was smitten instantly with a crush that school boys (and girls? I can’t presume the wiser sex feels similarly but perhaps) would marvel at. For the younger readers, Beirut is a fairly well-known commodity, but for the older set, they are likely an undiscovered country. But, what a fabulous adventure awaits you! How best to encapsulate this “band” and this record? If Astral Weeks evoked the aura of the gypsy, then this record embodies it. Gulag Orkestar has always felt like the long lost musical response to one of my favorite films, Time of the Gypsies, a gorgeous Yugoslav (so still in the Soviet satellite/communist era and pre-breakup and war) film about the coming age of a young gypsy boy. If these series of posts fail to betray my obsession and fascination for gypsy culture, art, and traditions, let me just be clear that I absolutely and unabashedly respect and marvel of their ethos and their music. Why? It just strikes me as there is something inherently pure and authentic about their nomadic lifestyle, a culture seemingly born of the soil and living in communion with it. (Yes, more “other”izing and romanticizing? Perhaps but it is how I feel.) Gulag is a celebration of an art form that is usually silenced or unheard. Although the album is rough, it is honest and sincere which is a trait of music that is quickly disappearing. I’ve whirled, dreamed, and drifted to distant worlds with this record, I hope you do too.

Listen → Beirut’s – Gulag Orkestar

If you like Gulag, check out The Flying Club Cup (more French fin de siècle) or The Rip Tide (more traditional indie-baroque rock)

The Decemberists’ The King Is Dead king id deadAnother band familiar to my contemporaries that might be unknown to the over 40 set. In all honesty, any of the records released by this group from the Pacific Northwest could have been listed here; however, I believe their latest record is the fullest realization of Colin Meloy’s unique penchant for odes to garlands and woodland retreats. Although Hazards of Love or The Crane Wife might be sonically closer to the sound of “Minstrel Rock”, The King is Dead treads into the English folk tradition as well as the American folk tradition with a decidedly roots rock feel (think early 80s R.E.M.; bonus points to whoever catches what R.E.M. song “Calamity Song” riffs on) and well honed songwriting. From the opening volley of this album, the Decemberists clearly intend to catalyze and invigorate rather than postulate and serenade. But, the aggressive rock tone is matched with a spots of cool and calm beautiful hymns (one for January (death?) and June (rebirth?)) that remind you Meloy and crew haven’t left their passion for past too far behind.

Listen → The Decemberists’ – The King Is Dead

If you like The King Is Dead, go back to The Crane Wife, Picaresque, or Hazards Of Love (forewarning this is a musical disguised as a concept album).

Hopefully, this foray has been as pleasant for others as for me, but we’ll return to contemporary and current times in forthcoming posts.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
The rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again…

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