[sic] Magazine

Rajna – Offering

Rajna is one of those bands that’s been lurking around my wish list for a long time, but somehow I never quite got around to hearing their work. Well, now that I have, I can say that they’re definitely worth hearing — the French duo’s ninth album ‘Offering’ is a pretty haunting experience, blending the new-agey textures of Dead Can Dance with the nighttime lushness of Loreena McKennitt . While some of the more acoustic songs fall flat, the more nimble and ethereal songs are pretty darn lovely, especially when the Grecian and Middle-Eastern flavors are woven in. It starts off slow with ‘The Arrival,’ which is basically 100% build-up — lots of soaring notes, strumming and a general sense that something big is about to start. Well, it sort of does: ‘Ephesus,’ a mellow ritual chant that is carried up on waves of shimmering synth and a haunting little flute melody, then grounded again with the sound of tambourines. Then we’re dipped into a string of lush, earthily melodious songs — the ethereal ‘Cycléades,’ the hauntingly plaintive ‘Offering,’ and the dreamlike expanses of ‘The Dance Of Cléomene.’ There ARE a couple of songs that fall flat in the middle — ‘Eleusis’ and ‘Illa Saldé’ spend a VERY long time getting to the meat of their respective melodies, and I was bored with the slow acoustic stuff long before they became interesting. And then there’s the ending ‘Never Land’ is a suitably magical, sparkling little song that floats past your ears, while ‘Quiet Hour’ spends too much time on the spacey synth loops, but slips into a delicate ambient melody after that.

According to Rajna themselves, ‘Offering’ was meant to have a Mediterranean flavor — Greece, Cyprus and Turkey, and the ancient cultures that still lie in fragments there. Well, they definitely did that right, since the entire album is soaked in the flavor of another world that slips easily over our own — crumbling temples in the moonlight, Middle-Eastern marketplaces at dusk, hot winds that blow flowers across the blue sea. The music itself has the flavor of a religious ritual — it’s very stately and simple, but frequently swirls into dancier melodies for awhile. The instrumentation is pretty lovely as well, with the twangy santur taking up a lot of musical space, as well as muted dulcimers, gongs, flutes, bells, guitar and a dense wave of strings. The synth is more muted than you’d expect, but at times I wished there was a bit more — ‘Eleusis’ feels like it was intended to have about twice as much instrumentation as it has (except for the ending). Jeanne Lefabvre adds to the solemn, ritualistic atmosphere by singing like some sort of ancient priestess — her voice is very soft and husky, and she lets it float around in a fog of bittersweet emotion. The one vocal downside: Aret Madilian’s half-spoken drone in ‘Quiet Hour’ completely jolted me out of the music. It has a couple drawbacks, but ‘Offering’ is a solid release — half atmospheric electronica, half traditional instrumentation. And it’s more than enough to make me check out Rajna’s previous work.