Dreamcræft is Old English for the ability to play an instrument, with the definition of dream, spanning the spectrum from pleasure to joy. The craft of elation.
Aes Sidhe released on Beltane, moon waxing and sun’s power ever soaring higher, is not a perchance detail. Clearly magick, dreamcræft, and the rhythms of Nature—indeed, an alliance with such cycles—are expressed in this, Joy Shannon and the Beauty Marks‘s seventh release. We’ve heard seven to be lucky and you, dear listener, are in luck. In accordance with her station, this high priestess will not reveal all—she’ll merely draw back the veil for a moment, lest our human senses fail us. Don’t suppose answers, but do prepare for an introduction to the infinite.
As is often the case in art, to effectively hear this music, it is requisite to delve into the human who creates it, and even the humans who shaped them. These centuries previous were not kind to the Irish, enslaved by Christianity and then by the English. Joy’s own grandmother lived the reality of the notorious Magdalene Laundries. Those who escaped their homeland, and weren’t lost at sea, would likely find that The New World offered only oppression on different soil. In the factories and mines of the north, the people of Ireland were less than slaves, their lives holding no value whatsoever to the master, commerce. The trials of her ancestors seem to not only encourage hard work—seven albums and a tattoo artist at her own Triple Goddess Tattoo—but also a drive for freedom, an insistence on being one’s own master. To live by the heart, courting beauty and divinity, as is the Irish spirit.
Upon initially hearing this first-generation American, I half-joked to her that she was a Heathen torch singer, but really she was more of an elegant Duchess than a diva. Even still I do often find myself feeling the urge to listen to Marc and the Mambas after Joy Shannon and the Beauty Marks.
She flaunts her witch. Right on, my sister.
“The Beauty Marks” refer to marks and moles inquisitors used to “prove” a woman in league with the Devil during witch hunts—the longest running and most ruthless of gendercides to have scourged the European peoples and their New World descendants. Shannon chooses also to re-imagine personal scars as impetus, inductions of the beauty one embodies through their lessons. She is an advocate for pagans, women, heretics, and humans, encouraging them to take back what is their birthright and “reclaim a tragic symbol as one that is truly beautiful.”
Joy is the Selkie, with every charm, luring you into her world.
Classically trained in cello and self-taught on harp, her bit of operatic education is abundantly clear in her range and rich, well-controlled voice (the singer’s voice, also known as the sacred harp in regions of the United States with a high Irish diaspora population). Elements emotive as the now disbanded Will O the Wisp, or ecstatic as Bluebird Gaia-era Lasher Keen are offered up on this otherworld plane of which we are now guests. Find also a touch of Miranda Sex Garden and Rasputina, the undeniable, romantic element of old-school goth subculture at a time when it was brooding and high drama (before the techno—as an elder, I’m still insisting: that’s not goth). Shannon names major influences as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (previously releasing a cover of “John Finn’s Wife”), the Virgin Prunes, Tolkien, Neil Gaiman, Celtic and Nordic mythology, Druidism, films like The Night Porter, composers like Norwegian Edvard Hagerup Greig, and ideas that unite the sciences of archeology and anthropology with primitive psychology. One can hear these epic inspirations and grand, classic themes—with the simultaneous dismissing of taboo—in the expansive soundscapes Shannon creates. Harmonium, dark, sawing strings, and stomping drums at times recall the fantasy of night fairs or carnivals, bringing to our consciousness the distinct possibility that some tinker might try to sell us stone soup, hints that we are about to happen upon Mr. Fox’s house deep in the forest. The next moment, as ethereal vocal layers surge through the sparkle of harp and swell of cello, the percussion becomes the beating wings of birds, promising that Avalon is just over that hill, Tír na nÓg just over the sea. In true Bardic tradition, these songs are tales steeped in a deep knowledge of myth and legend.
This newest release has a poise of maturity, seeming to mark the artist’s evolution from Maiden to Lady. As she is our guide on these transformative travels, it seems fitting that she has experienced a similar transformation. No longer a naïve princess, this proud queen who would grace us with her presence is sure-footed. She has been here before. Here in the underworld she also reigns, but as Völva, prophetess and necromancer. For these moments she sees through the eyes of the long dead, speaks with their long-silent tongues, guiding our journey that begins at the true beginning: Death.
“The concept album was inspired by the ancient Celtic and Nordic mythologies about death and rebirth into the afterlife. It is called Aes Sidhe, which in Irish means ‘people of the mound’ or spirits, ancestors or people who have passed over [‘sidhe’ pronounced ‘shee,’ shedding light on the origins of the word ‘banshee’]. The ancient Irish buried their dead in a mound, which symbolized the pregnant belly of the goddess, who would rebirth the dead into the otherworld. This album explores the ancient view of the dying process, the darkness in between when one awaited rebirth and then the various parts of the afterlife…”
Recorded at Ancient Owl Audio, producer Sammy Fielding is found filling in on multiple instruments and adding a deeper level to the vocal component. One hypnotic track boasts Xasthur on guitar, Harvey-esque vocalizations and sighs, pulling the listener, ready or not, again into the earth’s womb. Paintings by Paul Romano add to the intensity, implicitly stating the super-nature of the material to be found within.
So, welcome to Shannon’s dreamworld. The eternal tale of birth/death/rebirth flowing through her veins, through her fingers, from her mouth, is not the stale offering of dusty books or the cold canting of dried up doctrines. Aes Sidhe is the ever-living texture of oral traditions, the never-ending Mystery, the triumphs of the human spirit.
01) Fall from Tír na nÓg
02) Cŵn Annwn
04) Himmelstraße (feat. Sera Timms)
05) A Pause (feat. Xasthur)
06) Entering the Mound
07) Under the Whitethorn Tree
09) Tír na nÓg
10) Grey Havens
12) Mag Mell
13) Tir Tairngiri
Written by: Amie Beckwith
Cover Artist: Paul Romano
Cloister Recordings (United States) / Unknown / Tape
Triple Goddess Records (United States) / None / CD, Digital
Dark Folk / Celtic Folk / Neofolk