There is something amazing, intangible, and inexplicable about David Sylvian’s work. Ever since the demise of his initial band, he has crafted a very successful career by blending his deep and soulful voice with studio sorcery and a bevy of jazz and electronica influences. For Snow Borne Sorrow he assembled a band called Nine Horses, consisting of his brother and a long-time collaborator, drummer Steve Jansen, and Burnt Friedman, an electronic artist with enormous background within that domain.
Snow Borne Sorrow is light years away from his last recording, Blemish, a work that saw him dwelling into the territory of noise, improvisation, and minimalism, but is much closer to its twin sister, Good Son Vs Only Daughter. Snow Borne Sorrow lacks the plethora of artists who participated on the seminal recording Dead Bees On A Cake, as well as its color, but the approach is somewhat similar. It's also similar to another recording, Brian Eno’s Another Day on Earth; it seems that both artists have decided to put their own sound inventions within the familiar, ubiquitous pop format.
Snow Borne Sorrow is a carefully constructed album with great attention to detail. Sylvian is as adventurous as ever, yet relentlessly sober about his experiments, creating detailed and colorful sound worlds pervaded by emotional lyrics—which ultimately give birth to an eclectic mix of unknown sounds that blur any stylistic boundaries. But all of these aspects function perfectly and the structures are organically knit together without any hint of what is played and what is sampled.
While the dense and colorful electronics lay the sonic foundation, the drumming (and electronic beats) are what breathe life into these compositions. Drummer Steve Jansen adds another dimension and different feel to these compositions with his precise and subtle playing and programming. The guest list features Ryuichi Sakamoto, Stina Nordenstam, Arve Henriksen, Morton Gronvad, and more, each and everyone contributing significantly to the overall picture.
The opening track, “Wonderful World,” is an emotionally loaded, characteristically accomplished masterwork. “Banality of Evil” is a gorgeous lounge-jazz journey with beautiful deep rhythms and jazzy saxophones in the background played by Thomass Hass and Theo Travis. “A History of Holes” is another standout track. The way the instrumental music on this song serves as a canvas for Sylvian’s soulful vocals is pure genius. ”Serotonin” is a strangely cratfted track with nice beats and floaty, echoing melodies. The album closes with “The Librarian,” a dreamy, imaginative track with strong and exceptional vocal delivery by Sylvian.
As with Sylvian’s previous work, the story unfolds slowly, but it gets better with every new listen. In the end, Sylvian has delivered an album of rare and meticulous maturity, a work of art literally dense with ideas from the first to the last track. One of the strongest albums of his extraordinary career.
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