Delerium – Chimera

By 2003, pretty much everybody had sampled O Euchari, and nearly a decade or so into the good bit of their career, it was time for Delerium to join in the fun. Actually, a lot of people had worked with Zoë Johnston by this stage as well, so Chimera‘s opening track Love may not have much new to offer, but it’s a pretty good song nonetheless.

It was hardly a concept invented by Delerium, but this was early in the age of overprocessed vocals, which is a shame, as Jaël is a good singer, but After All, the single which preceded the album by a few weeks, does suffer initially somewhat from sounding as though it’s being sung by a robot. Having got beyond that, there’s a good song hiding here, and packaged with the traditional million-or-so remixes, this was a reasonable hit. Well, except for the fact that it came out during the sorry era when the UK record industry killed itself by limiting singles to a twenty minute duration.

Ultimately, it isn’t until Just a Dream that we really get a taste of the beautifully scenic sound that had had typified the preceding albums Karma and Poem, and it’s every bit as good as you might have hoped for.

The pop sound returns with the promo single Run for It, for which they drafted in vocalist Leigh Nash of Sixpence None the Richer (that’s even how she was credited). It’s a good song, but somehow seems a bit insubstantial after the preceding track. Proper second single Truly follows, with none other than Nerina Pallot on vocals. Another pop song, but a particularly good one, and since they waited until 2004 to release it as a single, it managed to get a slightly more substantial CD release.

Serenity is next, one of the longest tracks on here, and perhaps the closest yet to the blueprint laid out by the preceding albums, with its operatic and multinational vocal samples and rippling synthesisers. Touched is sweet too, although honestly, after a decade and a half of listening, it does sound rather dated now.

Forever After suffers from this as well – the Turkish vocals from Sultana are nice, but the scratching in the middle section seems a bit questionable now. It leads into the adorable Fallen, starring Rani, who previously sang on Underwater, the final single from the previous album. Fallen is really sweet, although it does seem to be about someone who’s about to commit suicide in the morning by throwing themselves of a star, which isn’t so cheery.

Leigh Nash of Sixpence None the Richer reappears for Orbit of Me, which for me is another of the weaker tracks on here, but then Julee Cruise turns up to deliver Magic. This one is a bit schizophrenic – in a way, it doesn’t really work (and no, I’m not a warlock – to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what one is) – but in a way, it does. Either way, it definitely worked a lot better for me fifteen years ago.

Eternal Odyssey is a very pleasant, if long, instrumental, which does a bit of an Enigma by sampling Samuel Barber‘s Adagio for Strings halfway through for no particularly obvious reason. Which, by the way, is also something someone had done by this stage, probably more than once.

The general theme, in case you hadn’t worked it out by now, is that with ChimeraDelerium were trying to go “pop” by borrowing ideas from lots of other people. It works, for the most part, as this is an entirely competent album, but it lacks the innovative streak that had characterised their sound in the mid-1990s.

Delerium mainstay Kristy Thirsk appears to lead the vocals on Returning, which might actually be the best track on here – it’s a sweet, almost lullaby-like track that closes the album well. But just as you start to wonder why the rest of the album couldn’t have been a bit more like this, that O Euchari sample turns up again. Chimera is a good album – it’s just not quite innovative enough to be a great album.

The only CD of Chimera currently on sale in the UK appears to be an import, but you can find that here, if you like.

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Delerium – Semantic Spaces

Following just months after its two predecessors Spheres and Spheres 2, Delerium‘s ninth (by my calculation) album Semantic Spaces must have come as a bit of a shock on its original release in 1994.

After five years of very chilled exploratory works, Delerium decided to take a more commercial turn which would eventually lead, an album or two later, to their enormous hit Silence. Whether this was a sell-out or a good move is up for debate, but if nothing else, it played a part in transforming Delerium from a largely overlooked chillout side-project to being – briefly perhaps – a hugely influential act.

Semantic Spaces begins with the main single Flowers Become Screens, with ongoing collaborator Kristy Thirsk on vocals. This is one of only a couple of full vocal tracks on this album, and while it may not be quite up to the standard of anything on the subsequent album Karma, it is a pretty strong start.

The more laid back Metaphor follows, mixing into the equally chilled sound of Resurrection, but there is still a marked difference from their earlier works – everything on this album contains considerably more layering, with obscure ethnic samples and chanting. Seemingly from nowhere, and in mere months too, Delerium seem to have found a quite unique sound.

Incantation is the second outing for Kristy Thirsk, and despite a fairly subtle opening, it quickly turns into a slightly odd mediaeval interpretation of early nineties dance music. It’s difficult to imagine this ever being played in a club, as it isn’t exactly what you might think of as contemporary, but it isn’t bad either. The chorus might not be as polished as some of their later work, but it’s pretty uplifting even so.

After this it’s largely instrumental all the way to the end of the album. The brilliant Consensual Worlds kicks things off in its full ten minute glory, starting off with a bizarre processed synth arpeggio and gradually building into what might actually be the best track on the album, full of dark aggressive atmosphere. The intrusion of dub about a third of the way in is a little unexpected, but it doesn’t really diminish the strength of the track.

Less notable are the unremarkable Metamorphosis and Flatlands, which has all the right elements – chanting, waily vocals, and an Enigma drum pattern – but is a little lacking in hooks. Penultimate track Sensorium turns things around somewhat with its pleasant wood block melody and rippling arpeggios. And of course the deep choir sound which sounds as though it might have been borrowed from New Order‘s b-side to Blue Monday, The Beach. It also features some chanting which was previously used by Deep Forest, so there’s been some interesting sample digging here.

After that, Gateway is a suitably laid back closing piece – it has all the power and energy of all the previous tracks, but also a certain gentleness. It still feels as though there might be something missing, but at the very least, this is the Gateway to the next album, the fantastic Karma (reviewed here).

Semantic Spaces is perhaps more important than anything else – good though it is, it’s far froom the most remarkable album in the world, but it did pave the way for the exceptional string of albums which would follow from Delerium over the next decade or so – KarmaPoem and Chimera in particular.

You can find Semantic Spaces at all major download and CD retailers online, such as Amazon.

Delerium – Karma

Sometimes, you might be looking for a new pop sound; sometimes something a little harsher and darker. Often, you’ll find something which almost fits what you’re looking for, but only very occasionally, an album will turn up which fits your requirements on every conceivable level.

Karma was one of those for me. Of course I’d heard the single version of Silence, and I think by the time I bought Karma I’d even worked out that it would probably sound nothing like the single, and yet there was something about the haunting vocal and melodies that fascinated me and gave me a strong desire to explore further. I’m very pleased I did – half way through my first listen of Wisdom I was already singing along, and it wouldn’t take long before I had in my possession all of Delerium‘s albums and singles, including the many versions of Silence.

The story of Delerium is itself a fascinating one. Kickstarted in the late 1980s, the project really seems to have been a softer, more ambient approach to music than Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber‘s initially better known industrial project Front Line Assembly. The first Delerium album Faces, Forms and Illusions was released in 1989, and a progression of gentle and entirely commercially unsuccessful albums followed over the next five years.

The real change seems to have occurred with Semantic Spaces (1994), by my reckoning their ninth album in five years, for which they worked on two tracks with Canadian vocalist Kristy Thirsk. The one single, a double a-side of Flowers Become Screens and Incantation seems to have been a minor success, and it is therefore likely that this was a key driver for what would three years later emerge as Karma.

The album opens with another track with a Thirsk vocal, Enchanted. But before you reach the vocal, your journey carries you through several minutes of soft chimes, choral sounds, playground noises, and sampled voices chanting in unknown languages. You should by now have a very good idea of what this album is going to be. The complex layering of Thirsk’s vocals is both confusing and a beautiful complement to the sampled voices, and nearly nine minutes later, the track finally draws to a close.

One of the many singles Duende follows, with a vocal by Camille Henderson. At this point you may realise that without a cross-examination of the booklet, it’s difficult to work out what on earth the vocalists are actually singing about. Somehow though with Karma that doesn’t even matter much – the mood and general spirit of the album are the most important thing, and that is excellent in the extreme.

Even the softer, more instrumental tracks on the album demonstrate a gentle, layered beauty, as pieces such as Twilight, Lamentation and Remembrance demonstrate. What you are hearing, you swiftly realise, is almost a more globally aware application of the Stock Aitken Waterman school of pop music – within each carefully layered and polished track is a steady progression of musical parts, each building on or taking its lead from its predecessor.

Then comes Silence. If there’s any vocal capable of pulling your heartstrings harder than Sarah McLachlan‘s on this song then I don’t know what it is. Much slower and more layered than the more commercial remixes that you’ll have heard elsewhere, you can kind of see how the original version would probably never have been a hit on its own. But for its sheer power and its ability to transport you to other worlds, I’m not sure this version has any competition.

The German Canadians Leeb and Fulber continue on their whirlwind tour through North Africa and India, perfectly mixing samples and obscure instrument sounds to create a quite extraordinary soundscape. Truly, every track on the album has its own special charm, and as a whole this has to be one of the finest releases in my collection.

Euphoria (Firefly) is one of my personal favourites. When vocalist Jacqui Hunt tells us “I never want to lose / What I have finally found / There’s a requiem / A new congregation,” she somehow carries you to another place entirely. Wisdom, perhaps the one ‘pop’ song on the album, with its undertones of buried regrets, is equally powerful.

This is perhaps where the power of Karma lies. Each track in its own way, perhaps through Egyptian sounds or evocative vocals, seems to whisk you away to another place and time. Listening to this album is like taking a geography class in one seventy minute audio experience.

The final track, another Kristy Thirsk vocal, is entitled ‘Til the End of Time (I’m going to forgive the slight linguistic lapse, as Front Line Assembly albums in particular are rarely free of spelling mistakes). Another song with more of a pop feel, it brings the album to a close in almost euphoric fashion with an incredible vocal and rippling synth arpeggio, making you want to dig out Poem already to find out what happened next. Another time, perhaps.

Karma has, over the years, been released in various forms. The initial version included a track entitled Koran, which was subsequently removed as it contained illegal samples. An optional “bonus disc” added Heaven’s Earth and Window to Your Soul. Then Window to Your Soul was slotted onto the main album in place of the inferior Koran, before finally the whole album was reissued with a bonus disc of remixes from the era. Which, to complicate matters further, contains different tracks in each country.

It’s difficult to know which version of the album to point you towards – you’ll need to look at all the different options available in your country and work it out from there. Here it is on iTunes, and here’s a double CD on Amazon.com.