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Cofounded in Australia in the early '80s by Irish punk bassist/singer Brendan Perry and Australian vocalist Lisa Gerrard, Dead Can Dance transplanted to London in 1982 and quickly became globally renowned for their stylistically diverse and groundbreaking music as well as their incredible live shows. Fusing atmospheric, ambient pop, spiritual undertones, and alt-electronica with world beats and European folk-both contemporary and centuries old-their string of album masterpieces kicked off in 1984 with a self-titled debut. After disbanding in '99, Perry went solo and Gerrard became a prominent film composer, celebrated for her Golden Globe winning score for Gladiator, among other works. Their cult following thrives, and Rhino's new compilation coincides with the band's reunion, their first together in many years.
Dead Can Dance went down in acrimonious flames in 1998, but that didn't stop its founders, Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard, from getting together for a sold-out world tour in 2005. No new music has come out of the reunion yet, but in the meantime they've released a collection that encapsulates the wonder of this remarkable and influential group. Emerging on the 4AD label in the early 1980s, Dead Can Dance sounded like a gothic nun and troubadour lost in time. Gerrard was the impassioned locus, singing in a transcultural vocalise that tapped into the spirit of Middle Eastern, Bulgarian, and Gregorian styles. She chants a dark meditation on the 16th century hymn "Song of the Sibyl" and a wailing enraptured delirium on "Cantara," and brings the spirit of Hildegard von Bingen into an ecstatic tribal trance on "Yulunga." But Gerrard was only one side of DCD. In a Jim Morrison-meets-Sinatra croon, Brendan Perry intoned lyrics of portent and loss. Transglobal instruments, gothic ambience, and Perry's love of American folk merged in their music. Although there's nothing new here and no tracks appear from their first album, Memento serves as a nearly perfect introduction to an influential band that still draws a fervent audience. Apparently the dead still can dance. --John Diliberto