Inventive and beautifully direct, Died In The Wool is another masterpiece in a long string of albums that singer and composer David Sylvian has recorded. His varied career portrays a restless creative spirit who makes engaging work, and Died In The Wool is another winner. Few artists at this point of their career would accept such challenges or would stray from their identifiable core.
Ever since Blemish (Samadhi Sound, 2003), Sylvian has been commissioning sister records for his "regular" output that consist either of remixes, alternate takes and/or unreleased material which stand on their own as cohesive work. Died In The Wool is the sister album of Manafon (Samadhi Sound, 2009), a simultaneously brilliant and difficult record, where again he eschewed the pop sound he was first associated with.
For the previous two sister records, The Good Son (Samadhi Sound, 2003) and Money For All (Samadhi Sound, 2007), he engaged musicians on the cutting edge of the electronic scene, and employed state of the art studio technology to reshape the material . In the same manner, he here employs the services of Dai Fujikura, a Japanese-born, London-based composer of contemporary classical music, as well as Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, who are two of the most prolific mavericks and soundsmiths of contemporary electronic music, with rich sonic vocabularies.
These artists reroute the music of Manafon through a micro-engineered forcefield awash with crisp and bristling activity and strings washes. Consequently, Died In The Wool is an intriguing, drifting and sometimes accelerating sonic affair. It is intensely moving because of the complexity of emotions it invokes. The contributors provide cinematoscopic features that replace the eeriness of the original material with a distinct feeling of warmth. The sound textures slide in and around each other, and sounds loom and roll ominously past as ghost objects. There is a flurry of activity around Sylvian's voice,with atonal flourishes and clusters that suggest an inscrutable logic of their own.
Over those thick patches of strings and ambient sounds, Sylvian sings the songs in a way that manages persuasively to convey shades of melancholic and desolate emotions. Bang and Honore contribute remixes to two tracks, "Emily Dickinson" and "Died In The Wool," and they contribute to two new tracks, "I Should Not Dare" and "A Certain Slant of Light." These tracks were constructed from live performances and studio experiments.
The second disc comprises a single track titled "When we Return You Won't Recognize Us," an audio installation commissioned by Biennial of Canarie 2008-2009. The piece was informed by a maverick production and collective improvisation approach, as heard on Manafon (and the pairing of improvisers such as John Butcher, Arve Henriksen, Günter Müller, Toshimaru Nakamura, and Eddie Prévost with a string sextet directed by Fujikura), which has resulted in a composition deftly carved out of an improvisation that reconciles apparently irreconcilable soundworlds.
The textures and timbres pervading these pieces might belong to the soundworld of electronic music, but beyond that there is a sense of broad sonic inclusiveness. Died In The Wool is a curious album, where every sound and nuance is laden with significance. Despite the number of cooks, the broth is not spoiled by the numbers, but works as a cohesive sound unit with thoroughly enjoyable music.
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