It’s been nearly thirty years since the world was introduced to Enya Brennan, who was popularized in the late 80s with the pivotal ‘Watermark’ record. In the years following, Enya has released seven full studio endeavors to varying degrees of success. At her best, the iconic Irish songwriter and composer is deeply emotional, sonically spectacular, and hauntingly beautiful. At her worst, she’s mundane, repetitive, and stuck in a sound that’s never grown or evolved. After quite a break, she’s back this year with Dark Sky Island an album that’s probably in the middle of that spectrum.
The introduction to Dark Sky Island, ‘The Humming...’ is very telling of the rest of the eleven track experience. Enya is still Enya. Sweeping string orchestration, copious reverb, vocal layering, and tinges of Irish traditional folk music are all present. The first two tracks of the album, ‘The Humming...’ and ‘So I Could Find My Way’ feel very “safe.” Enya doesn’t venture into any new territory you aren’t already comfortable with her being in. The lyricism is equally safe, not particularly expressing any new themes, just building on some basic love ideas that she attempts to flesh out in ‘So I Could Find My Way.’
‘Even In The Shadows’ is a high point for the album early on. Enya has always had an excellent knack for the self-creation of harmonies. This track capitalizes on that talent, creating a tune that breaks Enya out of her bubble a tiny bit more. She remains out of that bubble in the following track, too. ‘The Forge Of The Angels’ is a stunning experience, essentially creating a minimalistic opera landscape for Enya to softly croon throughout. The composition is well organized, harnessing the finest of what Enya brings to the table in her releases: great string sections.
‘Echoes In Rain’ is a compelling effort, perhaps because it breaks the established tempo of Dark Sky Island (Yes, it has one tempo that it does tend to meander within). This spices up the experience, but the string stylings are sorely repetitive. That is a problem Enya faces with her tunes; she seems to move toward those finger plucked string pieces in lieu of percussion. My point, is that she’s recycled this a thousand times over. Regardless, the piano solo in the piece does offer some sonic variation that amends the repetition, somewhat.
‘I Could Never Say Goodbye’ is likely the most well written endeavor on Dark Sky Island. It’s a heartbreakingly personal song, really pulling on Enya’s ability to harness those poignant emotions with tact. The titular track follows, basically extending on the established sound of ‘I Could Never Say Goodbye.’ As a result, ‘Dark Sky Island,’ the song, is somewhat forgettable.
‘Sancta Maria’ is interesting, if not only because I’m fairly positive that lead instrumentation is synthesized, or mastered to sound like it. I actually really like this; it forces Enya to leave the confines of that repetitive string plucking she’s all too happy to write into every song. That plucking does introduce itself around that main riff, but to hear such a bright piece of instrumentation grounding ‘Sancta Maria’ is refreshing. ‘Astra Et Luna’ is entirely skippable for its heavy reliance on Enya’s formulaic aethstetic.
‘The Loxian Gate’ continues Enya’s jaunt through vocal layering, adding an extra layer of reverb over a sparse usage of a gong. It’s nothing particularly invigorating, but it is soothing, as is ‘Diamonds On The Water,’ the finale. If you’re seeking a purely “Enya sound,” this record delivers that in spades. It doesn’t, however, deliver on the creative promise of a matured artist 28 years into their career.
I can’t imagine listening to the Deluxe version of this album. It’s not a bad album, and it has its moments, but Enya seems all too content in territory she’s occupied for many years without any real change. I adore some of her work, and in my opinion, her emotion is what makes the ending of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ so tear jerking. She did the same with ‘Gladiator;’ ‘Now We Are Free’ completes the film. As such a talented composer, however, she’s failed to exhibit any real sense of variety or creativity in the last decade. Dark Sky Island perpetuates that cycle. That said, ‘Even In The Shadows,’ ‘I Could Never Say Goodbye,’ and ‘Sancta Maria’ are admirably good songs.