A recent essay worth reading here, communicating eloquently and without pretension why Godspeed You! Black Emperor is such an anomaly in the world of pop music. The writer notes that "Godspeed brings to mind trains, that beautiful symbol of tangibility." And also: "One reason no one has filled the void Godspeed left is that no one else could gain a foothold while simultaneously coming over as so pretentious. I have no reason to think the band members aren't all good people, but in terms of presentation, these guys get away with murder, and it's wonderful."
Which all brings me to another "band" from the good old days, Dead Can Dance, now barely remembered, tossed into the dustheap of unhip history. But they were an important track in the soundtrack of my life in the late eighties and nineties. How to describe Dead Can Dance without using tired descriptors? Their early (and better) stuff encompassed everything from Gregorian chants ("De Profundis") to straight renditions of 13th century songs ("Saltarello") or 16th century Gatalan tunes ("The Song of the Sibyl"). Apparently their music was Neo-Medieval, whatever that means. They had a song called "Echolalia" and used glossolalia in their music.
Later in their career, they moved more into what folks today call "World Music" and away from their medieval roots. But it still holds up remarkably well. They were an important aesthetic influence on my musical education, especially in the late eighties but also into the nineties when they (first) broke up. I learned to be cautiously open to intellectual pretension. I understand that there's a thin line between intellectual aspiration and pathetic (and bathetic) parody but for some reason, I never placed Dead Can Dance in the latter category although many other bands were not spared by scorn. Dead Can Dance felt incredibly earnest even as they collapsed time (centuries) and space (continents) into tidy album-sized chunks with lyrics that would not be out of place in Chaucer.
Brendan Perry, one half of Dead Can Dance, was someone who played in punk bands as a kid but having been influenced by the post-punk of P.I.L. and Joy Division took a complete left turn into more expansive music. Lisa Gerrard, the other half, is someone who you imagine should have done her Ph.D. in Medieval Studies in a small liberal arts college in New England. She looks tiny, frail, wispy, and proper. She later scored the music for the film Gladiator.
Here then, are three random selections from the Dead Can Dance oeuvre.
Here is "Saltarello" from the album Aion (1990), first referred to in Napoli in the 13th century:
Here is "Echolalia" from the album The Serpent's Egg (1988):
Here is the band in the latter day / world music phase with a song called "Rakim," actually only released in a live version on the album Toward The Within.