Still Humming: The 20th Anniversary of Enya’s ‘A Day Without Rain’

Soft. Soothing. Ethereal. Diaphonous. These are words that come to mind when I think of the music of Eithne Ni Bhraonain, more commonly known to the world as Enya. I like the style of this gifted Irish sensation, not because her tracks are lyrically sophisticated but precisely because they’re not. They don’t need to be. Her unique translucent sound often transports me to new and wonderful places. Gently and contented I go, as if floating on a cloud without a care in the cosmos.

Even when the tempo picks up with her signature cello burps, pizzicato riffs, and other rhythmic pulsations, the effect is still light, airy, and non-threatening. Amidst the noise and nonsense of this broken and complex world, it’s nice to glide somewhere rather than be shoved, musically or otherwise. The world would be a better place if all of us took a healthy dose of musical Xanax once in a while.

Enya’s fifth studio album, A Day Without Rain, was released twenty years ago this week. It was a commercial succes with its lead single, “Only Time,” a piece that found much resonance in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. How revolting to see her breezy meditation resurrected in a Kraft Mac & Cheese commercial this year. That misalignment comes close to warranting a boycott of the international food conglomerate.

My favorite Enya album is her most recent, Dark Sky Island, which was released in November 2015, fifteen years to the day after A Day Without Rain. The lyrics are more substantive, and the musical style is quintessential Enya. In it she’s both clever and clandestine. As one would expect, she’s haunting, spellbinding, and cathedralesque from start to finish. Her explorations venture from the seen to the unseen realm (e.g., from “The Humming” to “The Forge of the Angels”). Bridging the two realms is “Sancta Maria,” a devotional to the Mother of Christ. No part of the universe exceeds the reach of her curiosity and musicality.

Also finding poignant expression in Dark Sky Island are the universal themes of love, heartbreak, and a journey’s end (e.g., “So I Could Find My Way,” “Even in the Shadows,” and “I Could Never Say Goodbye”). The most delightful and adventuresome piece is “Pale Grass Blue,” named for a small butterly in southern Asia. Both the lyrics and the melody are razor sharp as they capture something of the dance and flutters of nature.

Enya is truly one of a kind. All told, her career has been steady and impressive, recluse though she may be for long periods of time. New albums from her small studio team, however, are always worth the wait. Aren’t we due for another one soon? Who can say? Only time.

Now, what’s an evangelical like me doing listening to New Age music? In short, I like some of it. Not all of it, but Enya’s version of it—yes. Sometimes it helps me relax. Sometimes it helps me reflect. Sometimes it trips me into the boundless. And not once has it ever lured me into consulting crystals for guidance. Spiritual discernment doesn’t evaporate when the music around me gets all soundscapey. 

Besides, this is my Father’s world. “All nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres,” as Maltbie Babcock put it. And that’s the theological issue here. It’s called “common grace.” More on that neglected doctrine in a future post. Until then, I’ll be listening to my favorite Enya tunes, translucent though they may be.

Image Credits: enya.sk; walpaperflare.com.