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"Sangsara" Eleven Shadows


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If Brian Eno produced beautiful Italian arias in a Tibetan monastery, it might sound something like Sangsara.  Available 1998!  This music features the beautiful vocals of Esther Tessel, textures and atmospheres that sound rich and detailed and alive, Tibetan bells and bowls, bowed double-bass, and ghostly, ethereal musical passages. "To realize these beautiful textures and tunes, Ken Lee has enlisted the help of Esther and Connie (the vocalist and double-bass player, respectively) to make this one of the most organic and haunting collection of songs we've had the pleasure of reviewing." --Future Music Magazine (U.K.).

"I've had quite an interest in Tibet and its people since I was a small child. However, it was not until my trip to Northern India that I met some Tibetan refugees during my stay in Mussoorie. The stories that they told me moved me deeply, and those feelings stayed with me while I was writing these songs." -Ken of Eleven Shadows.

Do NOT miss out on this album.  Seriously...send ten dollars today.  You will love this.

Reviews of "Sangsara" Eleven Shadows

Alternative Press Review:
A masterpiece of passion, soundscapes, and beauty.

Muse Magazine Review:
If Brian Eno produced beautiful Italian arias in a Tibetan monastery, it might sound like this collection of visceral songs.

Wind and Wire Review:
I was wholly unprepared for the passion and pain of this recording. I was, in a few words, blown away on first listen.

The album is anchored by the almost operatic vocals of Esther Tessel and the multi-instrumental talents of Ken Lee (on everything from keyboards to Tibetan bells and Javanese gamelan), along with two other accompanists. The music is rooted in both Tibetan and ambient sensibilities. It is impossible to evaluate or even describe this album without mentioning the vocal work of Tessel who sings in Spanish (actually, it's Italian, with some Chinese and Tibetan -- the editors) and whose voice is almost painfully emotionally-laden. This is not Enya! Tessel's voice is so naked and soaring in its own emotive ability that it would be inhuman to be unfazed by the songs on which she appears.

The music itself on sangsara, the term which refers to the Tibetan cycles of birth and death, could probably be described as world ambient. The blending of the Tibetan and gamelan influences with the more overt electronic elements produces music that is both spiritual and electronic, yet with no trace of traditional Demby-esque Westernism. Some cuts, e.g. the collage-like "shiya" are more demanding for the casual listener. At times, while listening to sangsara, I was reminded of the brilliant album By The Pricking of My Thumb by where echoes end. This has the same feel of abstract beauty melded to a powerful message. But, where By The Pricking...was almost conceptual in its fusion of dialogue and samples with music, this seems more musical as a whole. There are some dialogue samples and recorded dialogue. But, overall, this album is more of a musical journey into a political statement than the aforementioned By The Pricking...

I consider myself a fan of gamelan and Tibetan music, so the use of bells, chimes, and other world elements actually enhanced the appeal of this recording for me.   However, unless a listener is deliberately turned off by vocals, even if you have never listened to world music, if you are a fan of ambient music, this may appeal to you. Dead Can Dance fans should be very enthused with at least parts of this album, as, at times, Esther can sound a lot like Lisa Gerrard.  Not everything here is ultra-heavy duty. The title cut is almost light in feel, as Esther's vocal and the accompanying gamelan sound almost joyful (well, in a subdued way). The second to last cut, "paragate" is nearly ethereal as the vocal and synths operate in almost angelic harmony. Bringing the album to an especially effective close is the fifteen-plus minute ambient number "chenrezi" which blends the Tibetan, Javanese, and ambient soundscapes together in seamless fashion to produce a floating yet densely textured ocean of serene mystery.

I never expected such an emotionally charged album from a label like AdAstra, although I shouldn't be that surprised. John Michael Zorko, the label's founder, has always shown a deeper side than is usual in the ambient field. Trust him to release an album whose noble intentions are easily matched by music that is both emotionally charged and beautifully complex. Recommended.

Future Music Review:
Eleven Shadows' "Shegar" had us all swooning back in Future Music 41. Replete with multi-layered Kurzweil string pads, bowed double bass and beautiful vocals, the earlier track proved to be something of a sponge for superlatives. Described at the time as 'organic and haunting', among other things, Ken Lee's orchestral epic provoked a flurry of activity around the 'organic and haunting' section of the office thesaurus. "Shegar" also got an airing on the fabulous "Mixing It" show on Radio 3 on the BBC thrice!

"Caro Mio Ben" is a new track from Eleven Shadows, and I'm sure you'll agree, a testament to their past Demo of the Month status on Future Music Magazine (referring to previous inclusions on a couple of their CDs that accompany each issue! -- your friendly editors).

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