Beats from the Basement—Delerium

Album: Karma
Artist: Delerium

Considering the countless number of festivals worldwide dedicated solely to electronic music, I think it’s safe to say many of us are fans of the genre.  However, after listening to Vancouver-based duo Delerium’s Karma, I feel that current artists generally don’t push the envelope in terms of how audiences can engage with electronic dance music, instead focusing on those usual four beats per minute to get the crowd hopping.

Before transitioning further into dark ambient music, Delerium did something cool in 1997: combine electronic production and organic sounds (to the point where they overshadow the former) for a truly out-of-body experience.  Gregorian chants were recorded specifically for the album, while samples appear to have been taken of vocal styles as well as instruments prominent in various African, Middle Eastern, Asian, and European musical cultures respectively, including the tabla, Chinese zither, marimba, duduk, rhaita, Spanish guitar, snare drum, erhu, pipa, and bamboo flute.

This all manages to create both an astral and earthly atmosphere; we don’t often hear it in Western music; music that mostly scratches the surface, if anything.  I do hesitate to call Karma an ambient album though, because each song has a clear structure and rhythm to it.  Moreover, they tend to rely on similar beats instead of fully experimenting with other melodies played in these unique genres.

Still, there’s enough mystery here that encourages you to discover the music’s origins, because you don’t always know what you’re listening to, and the rabbit hole can be quite a thrill.  The lyrics, where applicable, convey poetic simplicity and can be interpretive at times.  That works because they fade into the background, allowing for a more immersive experience with the music itself.

Several guests were brought on to sing the lyrics; in “Duende”, Camille Henderson—also from Vancouver—recites a despair-filled song about counting on peace in an imaginary world rather than reality.  Her voice blends what sounds like a vocoder effect and her own ethereal pitch, matching the words’ distortive nature, with pygmy music to give it a sense of urgency.

Meanwhile, I find Delerium’s most famous hit, “Silence”, to be underwhelming given the talent behind it.  Halifax-born Sarah McLachlan is arguably one of the best mezzo-sopranos out there, and although she sings this song about rejuvenation with warmth and somewhat of a dreamlike air, it isn’t among her strongest works.  I nevertheless enjoy the chanting here, which sounds especially Byzantine.

On the other hand, Jacqui Hunt succeeds in bringing that psychedelic edge to “Euphoria”, the only song on Karma I’d say is close to pop.  She reminds me of Madonna from the 90s onwards, who is also known for songs about starting over and believing in love, so it’s fitting that she took on one such track here.  The echoes are also a highlight, as they still have me wondering whether they’re by humans or animals.

By far, the most enigmatic of them all to me is “Heaven’s Earth”.  It is a hypnotically wicked piece in which yet another artist originating in Vancouver, Kristy Thirsk, tries to convince her love interest, who reciprocates her feelings, to be with her.  The drama and precarious whispers in her voice that’s reminiscent of Kate Bush’s theatrics arrest me, but I’m not sure how to feel about the inclusion of lyrics in the first place.  Do they cause the song to be jarringly uneven, or add to its evocative character?

These are the sort of things that demand your attention, particularly if you’re looking to adopt a more meditative outlook on life.  On the whole, Karma is a new-age, worldbeat marvel that’d make a fine addition to any yogi’s collection.

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