By Jason Motz
2012 has seen a handful of glorious reappearances by some of the most enigmatic performers of the past thirty years. In this installment we look at the return of three familiar voices: The Pet Shop Boys, Neneh Cherry and Dead Can Dance.
Short Take: Uncompromising.
We begin with Neneh Cherry. Cherry is the daughter of avant jazz pioneer Don Cherry. On her latest record (and first since the 2006 debut of her band CirKus) she abandons the urban spunk of her early solo albums for more aggressive, atonal sounds. Backed by Swedish noise trio The Thing, The Cherry Thing is a seductive skronk fest. Notable covers of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream”and the Stooges’ “Dirt” are among the finest, head-crushing moments on record this year.
The album is not for the faint of heart. If you’re expecting the smooth urban grind of Buffalo Stance or some late-night dub a la Massive Attack, you’ll be disappointed. This is funk with an irregular heartbeat, jazz with a migraine, soul with a heavy Euro accent. This might be the finest jazz recording of the year. Certainly it is the most surprising. Watch a clip of “Accordion” below:
Nenah Cherry and The Thing “Accordion”
Short take: remarkable!
Elysium is the first batch of new material from the Pet Shop Boys since 2009 but Boys Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe sound as fresh as ever. While it lacks the dominant thump and groove of their peak 80s material, there are moments of dazzling brilliance here: “Memory of the Future” sounds like a lost cut from Actually. “Ego Music,” the catchiest moment on the album by far, is classic PSB.
“Your Early Stuff” is a sly number. “Give it a Go” has the warm glow of an early 70s Beach Boys album.
Album opener, “Leaving,” is a short-lister for song of the year. Watch the clip for ” Leaving” below.
Mind you, not everything here catches fire. “Hold On”is pure hokum, an embarrassment really. The middle section of Elysium sags a bit but the closing duo of “Everything Means Something” and “Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin” are stone cold killers.
There is a bonus track version which contains an hour-long track-by-track discussion with Lowe and Tennant that will be of interest to the hardcore fans.
The Pet Shop Boys “Leaving”
Short take: Addictive.
The Australian duo of Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry returns with their first DCD collaboration since 1996. We are not worthy of such an elelgant, refined album. Haunting is an inadequate adjective to describe the sounds within. Like the sound of a bleak wind on a dark night, the music of Anastasis is another chilling fusion of world and ethereal vocal textures. This is as potent a brew as you are likely to ever hear.
Album-opener “Children of the Sun” is damn close to being the brightest, popiest tune DCD has ever produced. This is a movie theme waiting to happen.The Eastern-vibe of “Anabasis” shows both Perry and Gerrard in phenomenal form. “Agape” (vid below) simmers with the gypsy sensuality of their middle-90s classic, “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove.” “Kiko” finds the duo at their moody, gloomy best.
Gerrard is simply one of the greatest living vocalists. To have her out of the game for so long was a shame. Her return here is beyond words. Rivaling their best work, Anastasis should be on plenty of playlists this autumn or as mood music for fans of Game of Thrones. Sixteen year absence you say? It doesn’t show.
Dead Can Dance “Agape”