AS ANY AUDIO buff knows, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab has for many years been taking a selection of acclaimed and/or already great-sounding albums, and transforming them into nuggets of pure audio gold via their patented transfers and especially good molten vinyl stock. Witchdoctor has taken on the laborious job of listening and comparing a bunch of the label’s more recent issues. Of course there’s nothing remotely enjoyable about this task, not at all.
I’m lying, of course. Listening to Spiritchaser on a clapped-out cassette deck would be more enjoyable than most jobs, but hearing this luminous record on a double album, where the fat grooves can really accommodate the full emulsive depth and texture of these beautiful, sensual organic/synthetic rituals… transports it into a thing of wonder. [It’s worth noting that there are only two songs each on Side 1 and Side 3, and only one on Side 4!]
Dead Can Dance is, of course, an Australian-originated duo (resident in the UK) who came out of the post-punk-industrial nexus to literally create their own, unique hybrid of ambient, historic and world musics. Starting out as part of the 4AD label “sound” that included the Cocteau Twins, by the time the group got to their last studio album [to date], Spiritchaser, in 1996, the group’s accent was towards hypnotic organic rhythms, many of them derived from North Africa and the rituals of Native Americans. Theirs was a sound that you either found transporting/intoxicating/otherworldly, or pretentious/weird/morbid. Personally, I fell in love with this album all over again listening to it for this review.
Mobile Fidelity are up against it here, because the whole DCD catalogue has been released on audiophile SACD discs, and I was able to directly compare my SACD of Spiritchaser with MF’s vinyl version. By way of comparison, all I can really say is that the SACD has the edge of detail, but the vinyl by contrast, sounds totally natural and immersive and deep in a way that the SACD just doesn’t quite manage. They’re both spectacular, but different. It’s worth noting that Mobile Fidelity undertook the SACD remastering as well, so I’m not surprised that it sounds incredible on both formats.
I won’t go into the detail of every song, because there are doubtless hundreds of well-informed reviews by dedicated DCD nerds online already, and to be honest, their haunting music is terribly hard to describe. There’s Lisa Gerrard’s bizarre voice, which sometimes sounds like a figure from the Middle Ages, and others like a wailing Middle Eastern diva in some kind of ecstatic trance. Then there’s Brendan Perry’s deeply melancholic voice and songs. But really, on Spiritchaser, it all comes down to rhythm. The kinds of acoustic percussion that predominate are infinitely subtle and lend themselves beautifully to audiophile vinyl, because they’re so full of tonal nuance and texture that the listener seldom feels the need for the addition of much else.
While so many releases from the mid-‘90s are showing their age, this one just keeps getting better, because any intervention by technology is minimal – it just doesn’t date. Highly recommended to anyone who wants to either impress their friends with the abilities of their hi-fi, or simply enter a deep dream state. GARY STEEL
Sound = 5/5
Music = 5/5
Gary Steel’s admittedly less than highly spec’d gear includes: Pro-ject Xpression II turntable, Ortofon cartridge, Pro-Ject Phono Box II, Rotel RC-1550 preamp, Yamaha CD-S2000 Super Audio CD Player, and Martin Logan Powered Hybrid Electrostatic Loudspeakers.
* The vinyl of Spiritchaser is available from Southbound Records, a fabulous vinyl-dominated store located at 69 Mt Eden Rd, Auckland.