The 2000 Sarah McLachlan collaboration “Silence” remains one of the defining trance classics, but as anyone familiar with the rest of their back catalogue will already know, Canadian outfit Delerium’s usual sound is more meditation tape than Ministry of Sound. Recording half the album with Jeremy Inkel in Vancouver, and half with Rhys Fulber in Los Angeles, Bill Leeb continues on this spiritual path with the New Age pioneers’ first record in six years, Music Box Opera.
For those unconvinced by the concept of the studio album in the pick-and-choose era of iTunes and Spotify, this belated follow-up to 2006’s Nuages du Monde puts forward a pretty strong case. Taken out of context, most individual tracks fail to grab much attention. Opener “Consciousness of Love,” a blend of seductive R&B vocals and twitchy slow-motion electro which sounds like a mash-up between Enigma and early Sugababes, has a vague whiff of minor hit, as does the ethereal synth-pop of “Chrysalis Heart,” which could quite easily have fit onto Ellie Goulding’s recent LP.
But Music Box Opera needs to be experienced in its entirety for its lush textured soundscapes to properly reel you in. Admittedly, there are a few self-indulgent noodlings which will test the patience of even the most relaxed souls, particularly the meandering Middle Eastern instrumental, “Awakening.”
However, on the whole, Delerium infuse their mystical brand of electronica with enough twists and turns to prevent listeners from slipping into a coma. The gothic trip-hop of “Light Your Lights” and the Leftfield-esque “Sky (Tears From Heaven)” sees regular collaborators Jael and Kristy Thirsk respectively hark back to the nocturnal Bristolian sounds of the mid-90s.
The Michael Logan-sung “Days Turn Into Nights,” first male vocal featured on a Delerirum track since Matthew Sweet on 2001’s “Daylight,” merges a dreamy William Orbit-style production with the soft-rock melodies of One Republic. Several other newcomers to the fold also make their mark, from Nadina on the Middle Eastern breakbeat of “Monarch,” to US dream-pop duo Azure Ray on the seductive “Keyless Door.”
Arguably Delerium’s most consistent and immersive release to date, Music Box Opera proves that New Age music is capable of being captivating as well as calming.