Friday, July 17, 2009


Anno Domini
Spotted Peccary (2007)
Rating: B+

Given Deborah Martin's past affinity (as I interpret it) for reflecting some spiritual influence in her brand of ambient music (on recordings such as Tibet, Under the Moon and Ancient Power), it might be inevitable that she would train her artistic eye on mining the ages-old traditions of Western sacred music. And that's exactly what she and fellow Peccary artist J. Arif Verner do on Anno Domini, a fascinating integration of the ultra-contemporary with the ancient, featuring state of the art synthesizers (as well as guitars, loops, percussion, and drums) sometimes serving as accompaniment to Latin vocals and other times weaving an ambient-spiritual spell all by their instrument-only selves. However, don't come to this party expecting a chill-out/club atmosphere Enigma-clone. Martin and Verner are plugged into something much deeper, more sacred and infinitely more somber than Gregorian chants blended with high-hats and beats. After just the first track, the beautiful and haunting "Kyrie," listeners will hear that this is definitively drifting ambient music, but occasionally accompanied by Martin's subdued (and heartbreakingly pretty) vocal refrains. All but one of the remaining six tracks are cast in this mold, i.e. somber yet beautiful drifting soundscapes, sometimes suffused with the musical motifs of sacred hymns (long sustained chords/notes, minor key melodies, and a palpable yet muted sensation of awe and majesty). Not all the tracks contain vocals, in case any of you are concerned about that, by the way. One instrumental selection is "Spiritus" which features layers of synths (both upper and lower register), bell trees, and crystalline shimmering tones, along with wordless chorals. "Anno Domini" is a vocal track, though, and Martin's sublime voice calls out from the dark backdrop of flowing minor-key synth washes and deep bassy drones. "Illuminata" contains a gently throbbing bass rhythm underneath celestial synth pads, eventually folding in hand drums and percussion, morphing into a piece that combines the previous musical motifs with those of entho-tribal ambient. "Dona Nobis Pacem" brings guitar into the mix along with the most pronounced drama and power present on the CD. This track borders on sounding more akin to label-mates Jon Jenkins and David Helpling's release Treasure (the track does stand out stylistically from the rest of the album for this reason, especially at its conclusion when things get uncharacteristically loud amid some thundering crescendos). "Inter Astrum" then concludes the CD in a celestial spacemusic vein.

I preferred the first five tracks more than the last two, but that's more my preference than anything else (although I wonder how the louder passages on "Dona Nobis Pacem" are received by listeners who prefer a more consistent musical message). One doesn't need to have either a predilection for or a knowledge of sacred liturgical music in order to enjoy Anno Domini, because when you get right down to it, it's more of an ambient/spacemusic recording than an outright homage to Catholic hymns (despite the all Latin language titles). However, an appreciation for hymns will likely result in a more fulfilling reaction to this recommended disc.

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