It seems somehow insufficient to describe Enya as a singer—just as it wouldn’t be right to describe, say, Jesus as a charismatic fella with a gift for storytelling. Enya is: a gravitational force from the Emerald Isle who’s dominated the world-music charts for several decades, a mysterious sprite who lives in an actual castle, the melodic accompaniment of choice for slightly crunchy Boomers. Enya is also: a synonym for uncool music, South Park’s source of despair, and the soundtrack to a perturbing, vaguely New Age-infused period in the ’90s when the Irish Tiger was roaring. (Michael Flatley was stomping all over Broadway, Pierce Brosnan was James Bond, and Bono was saving Africa with neon-tinted spectacles and Project Red™-branded goods. It wasn’t culture’s proudest moment.)
All that acknowledged, there’s something enormously soothing about Enya’s music—possibly because it sounds like a humanized version of the whalesong they play when you’re getting a massage, or because her lyrics are poetic gibberish, or because her slightly distorted vocals make it sound like Mother Earth herself is struggling to be heard over the bells and the 57 violinists playing the same note. On the new Enya album, Dark Sky Island, there’s a song called “The Forge of the Angels,” and indeed that’s what it sounds like—as if a fleet of haloed beings are making things out of celestial iron while Enya breathes one syllable over and over again and a particularly clumsy piano player tries to master the three notes he’s been tasked with repeatedly adding to the mix.