On Manafon erstwhile Japan frontman David Sylvian seems to have crafted
something both improvisational and quiet, bruising, distant and
avant-garde yet not without melody or easily contained mood shifts. And
as different as any of his recent works are from those of his past.
The tune "Small Metal Gods" is hum-able, plucked and tender - filled
with the clicks and wood bumps only the best of Manfred Escher's ECM's
vinyl recordings might feature. There's even something queerly political
about "SMG" - its mentions of laborers at no pay - itself a unique bit
of play from a man not usually known for such. There's a lot of that wry
wriggling in his lyrics here; Emily Dickenson, dead rabbits, even the
things that fill his 11-minute "The Greatest Living Englishman" - a life
of "melancholy blue, or a grey of no significance." This may be suicide
but it seems so blackly funny I can't help but snigger.
Perhaps that's because Sylvian's vocals have a softer brighter flutter
to it than in the past, a voice that finds sympathy in the sub-tone
squints of a tenor saxophone, the abstract twinkle of a piano's
Satie-esque still life and the squeak of strings from an acoustic guitar
to a wayward violin. And that voice makes the burr behind the desperate
poetry sound that much more fleeting, ample and odd rather than merely
maudlin. The "exhaustible indifference" he sings of in "Snow White in
Appalachia" can be heard in his own hollowed out hoot, accompanied by
the barely there blip-and-scratch of a tape-loop gone mildly wonky.
That's more fun than I imagined from Sylvian.
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