The Piano Guys have produced musical and video gems that mash up classical themes with pop songs, making their YouTube channel one of the most visited on the planet and bringing the group a recording deal with Sony Masterworks. This self-titled set, their major-label debut, features their amazing ten-handed take on One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful," the recording and video that first vaulted the Piano Guys to international fame.
Steve Leggett, Rovi
Enya's first full-length album of new material in five years (and her fourth in 12 years) will have a familiar sound to the millions who have followed her career so far. As usual, the slow songs sound like "Silent Night" being performed in a cathedral, and the less slow songs are paced by rhythm patterns that would be called pizzicato passages if they were being played on real strings instead of string-like synthesizers. Over the music, Enya sings in her multi-tracked, ethereal voice, making Roma Ryan's lyrics, which are full of pastoral imagery and abstract romantic sentiments, seem even more insubstantial than they already are. In the press materials accompanying the release, Enya explains why it took her five years to come up with less than 34 and a half minutes of music that sounds like most of her earlier music by noting that she plays all the instruments and does all the singing herself without using samples. It might be more accurate to say that there is no need for her to release albums any more frequently than she does, since each one sells over a long period of time. And since her listeners are more concerned with the mood she sets than with musical content, the similarity to her other albums is a good thing. This is music that works almost entirely as a surface pleasure; strip it of its pretensions, and it's just contemporary easy listening music. [The Australian release adds a bonus track, "The First of Autumn."]
William Ruhlmann, Rovi
Thanks to its distinct, downright catchy single "Orinoco Flow," which amusingly referenced both her record-company boss Rob Dickins and co-producer Ross Cullum in the lyrics, Enya's second album Watermark established her as the unexpected queen of gentle, Celtic-tinged new age music. To be sure, her success was as much due to marketing a niche audience in later years equally in love with Yanni and Michael Flatley's Irish dancing, but Enya's rarely given a sense of pandering in her work. She does what she does, just as she did before her fame. (Admittedly, avoiding overblown concerts run constantly on PBS hasn't hurt.) Indeed, the subtlety that characterizes her work at her best dominates Watermark, with the lovely title track, her multi-tracked voice gently swooping among the lead piano, and strings like a softly haunting ghost, as fine an example as any. "Orinoco Flow" itself, for all its implicit dramatics, gently charges instead of piling things on, while the organ-led "On Your Shore" feels like a hushed church piece. Elsewhere, meanwhile, Enya lets in a darkness not overly present on The Celts, resulting in work even more appropriate for a moody soundtrack than that album. "Cursum Perficio," with her steady chanting-via-overdub of the title phrase, gets more sweeping and passionate as the song progresses, matched in slightly calmer results with the equally compelling "The Longships." "Storms in Africa," meanwhile, uses drums from Chris Hughes to add to the understated, evocative fire of the song, which certainly lives up to its name. Watermark ends with a fascinating piece, "Na Laetha Geal M'Oige," where fellow Irish modern/traditional fusion artist Davy Spillane adds a gripping, heartbreaking uilleann pipe solo to the otherwise calm synth-based performance. It's a perfect combination of timelessness and technology, an appropriate end to this fine album.
Ned Raggett, Rovi
Calling Shepherd Moons a near carbon copy of Watermark puts it quite mildly. Like Watermark, Shepherd Moons opens with the title track, a calm instrumental, has another brief instrumental titled after a Dora Saint book smack in the middle ("No Holly for Miss Quinn"), and concludes with a number incorporating a striking uilleann pipes solo, "Smaointe...." In general, Enya's own musical style and work remains the same, again assisted on production by Nicky Ryan and with lyrics by Roma Ryan. Shepherd Moons does have one key factor that's also carried over from Watermark -- it's quite good listening. Though the total continuity means that those who enjoy her work will again be pleased and those who dislike it won't change their minds, in terms of finding her own vision and sticking with it, Enya has increasingly polished and refined her work to a strong, elegant degree. "Caribbean Blue," the lead single, avoids repeating the successful formula of "Orinoco Flow" by means of its waltz time -- a subtle enough change, but one that colors and drives the overall composition and performance, the closest Enya might ever get to a dance number. Some songs call to mind traditional Irish music even more strongly than much of her earlier work, while two other tracks are haunting rearrangements of old, traditional numbers. With her trademark understated drama in full flow many other places, especially on the wonderful "Book of Days" (replaced on later pressings with an English language version done for the film Far and Away), Enya shows herself to still have it, to grand effect.
Ned Raggett, Rovi
International contemporary instrumental (new age) superstar Yiannis Hrysomallis' first album of new studio material since 2003’s Ethnicity finds the self-taught Greek composer returning to his instrumental roots, crafting a 15-track onslaught of blistering calm that will appeal to fans of his mid-'90s heyday. Like Ethnicity, 2011’s Truth of Touch is built on a foundation of international rhythms, but Yanni's understated phrases and keen melodic sense help to keep the project squarely in the accessible zone. Devoid of any epics (the longest track is just over five minutes), Truth of Touch is a largely instrumental (“the operatic “O Luce Che Brilla Nell'oscurità” features a male tenor lead) pop record that deftly weaves in heavily cinematic (the dreamy title cut sounds like an extension of Toto and Brian Eno's “Prophecy Theme” from David Lynch's Dune) vistas laced with smooth jazz and tribal rhythms. It may not break any new ground for the pianist/composer, but it's hardly a step back, resulting in a fine return to form for the king of the Acropolis.
James Christopher Monger, Rovi
Ray Lynch's synthesizer playing sometimes approximates keyboard instruments and sometimes sounds like individually plucked strings on electrified string instruments, but always has a deeply textured melodic structure and a buoyant rhythmic underpinning. Isolated notes in series and patterns make a pointillistic mosaic of sound that alternately soothes and stimulates. No wonder this is one of the best-selling new-age albums of all time.
William Ruhlmann, Rovi
Canyon Trilogy represents a return to the simplicity of Carlos Nakai's earlier albums such as Changes and Journeys. There are no additional instruments here, no rattles, and no chanting, just his haunting flutes, either solo or multi-tracked. The "trilogy" in the title refers to the three sections of the album -- "Dawn's Mirage," "Dreamscapes," and "Resonance."
Backroads Music/Heartbeats, Rovi
Liquid Mind is a Chuck Wild project. He has created this series to generate deep and lasting serenity through meditation and relaxation. Ambience Minimus is the first CD of the set. It is an amazing disc. Most psychoactive music requires deep listening to feel the effects. This CD even grabs casual listeners. It is possible to perform simple tasks (like writing) while listening, but the relaxing effect still dominates. Deep listeners will float along blissfully. Casual listeners will feel all the effects on the synapses in the brain. Those simple tasks will be lighter and more enjoyable. This CD will appeal to fans of Oophoi, Alio Die, Sean Washburn, Kip Mazuy, and Constance Demby. It is essential electronic minimalism.
Jim Brenholts, Rovi
Yanni's latest is another extension of his creative spirit and stirring passion for life. Focusing on piano as his primary instrument, Yanni infuses his "signature" style with timeless, eloquent themes and plenty of romantic energy. No longer are rhythm and dynamic currents as vital to his sound, since he seems to have stopped fueling his music with "rocket power." His romantic outpourings lend a personal nature to In My Time, and this new effort should be received with enthusiasm far and wide. Yanni is uniquely expressive, and this new music is deeply touching on many levels.
Backroads Music/Heartbeats, Rovi