It took nearly three years to complete BooCheeMish, the newest album from The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices. Featuring Lisa Gerrard, singer for Dead Can Dance, the collaboration was previewed with a 7″ from Prophecy Records last December, but it only offered an inkling of what the full LP would sound like.
What’s curious about the new record is that the original album from the group, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, was released on folk label Nonesuch, whereas BooCheeMish is out via Prophecy, a German label which is home to post-punk/folk act Sol Invictus and French death metal band Alcest, among others. You’d think that this — combined with the likes of Ms. Gerrard — might have radically changed the sound of the group, which came to notice in the mid-‘80s.
Happily, nothing has changed intrinsically in regard to the voices of the all-woman Bulgarian choir. While there might be the addition of beatboxer SkilleR on four tracks, it is, as writer and composer Peter Dundakov stated in a piece for the New York Times, “part of the folklore of the 21st century” and “it all happens in the mouth.” A fair point, and representative of the fact that the compositions might be new, and the instrumentation more full, but the way in which these voices soar and move is pure and timeless.
The sound of the record is fascinating, and for those inclined to attempt to follow along, there are lyrics printed on the inner sleeve, but the fact of the matter is that the sound of the voice is the main attraction here. The feeling of the music is so intense, and intensified by traditional instrumentation such as the sagat (finger cymbals) and tonbak (goblet drum), along with other stringed instruments, that it’s this wall of hypnotic music which throws the listener into a trance.
Every single time I’ve put on BooCheeMish since it arrived, I’ve found a new aspect on which to focus on: the voices of the choir, Ms. Gerrard’s contributions, the instruments — and the layers continue to be peeled back. Whether it’s the way Gerrard’s voice interplays with that of the choir and the handclaps of “Unison,” which kicks off the album’s second side, or the penultimate vocal gymnastics of “Shandai Ya,” there’s something new to be appreciated on each listen.
The album sounds astonishing. There are so many aspects to this recording which require attention that the tightrope required to produce equitable fidelity across the board — while avoiding sounding flat or compressed — had to be quite difficult to walk. The choir’s drone and Gerrard’s soaring vocals on “Mani Yanni” alone require a deftness of mixing and mastering which really leaves me completely in awe.
The record is pressed on 180-gram black vinyl and comes in a jacket adorned by the gorgeous artwork evoking both the sound of the choir and the flower after which the album is named. The inner sleeve contains full credits for the production, along with lyrics and a photo of the choir. It’s all simple in style, but well put together, and featuring every bit of information one could want.
BooCheeMish is available on vinyl from Prophecy.