Chant is a new marketing niche in the alternative music scene, and swings from albums of straight recitations to a glut of electronica mantra CDs. A group like Rasa turns chants into cinematic excursions. Singer Donna DeLory recasts chants as pop hooks and Krishna Das growls them into guttural ruminations. But the German singer Deva Premal was doing the mantra thing long before it became a commercialized trend.
On Dakshina, Premal, along with her partner, guitarist Miten, converts chants into serene, almost easy-listening refrains. Premal has a warm alto that she deploys on rhythm-free chorales of Enyaesque vocal layers to downtempo, world-beat grooves. With her chants harmonized and repeated into infinity, the effect can be like an ocean surface. It's constantly flowing and in motion, but doesn't have a lot of focus. But on songs like "Guru Rinpoche Mantra" or "Homage to Krishna," a wave rises and carries you down its face in a slo-mo free fall. Premal keeps it mostly acoustic, filling in ornamental lines with acoustic guitar, tamboura, and bansuri flutes. Only the orchestral strings occasionally get in the way. Her previous albums have often been sappy in their new age aspirations, but on Dakshina, she's more naked, stripping her sound down to a deeper emotional core. --John Diliberto