David Sylvian’s voice is everything. It booms out grandly over accompaniment that is barely there and in truth is probably not even needed. There’s an inherent musicality to his croon, yet it’s like he’s slowed the tune down in his head, the pauses between verses taking much too long, barely flowing onwards. It’s almost comatose, yet it has this grand old world feel where each word is given an immense gravity. Accompaniment is barely possible, yet Sylvian has collected a veritable who’s who of the avant garde set, Christian Fennesz, Evan Parker, Keith Rower, Sachiko M, Otomo Yoshihide, Toshimaru Nakamura, and Werner Dafeldecker amongst others who improvise together and offer this incredibly subtle and quite ingenious sound/ music that seems to ebb and flow around Sylvian’s dramatic delivery. Just when you think that we’re dealing with some aimless avant garde tomfoolery comes the sole instrumental track The Department of Dead Letters which masterfully defies conventional (and perhaps even unconventional) wisdom, a lurching, haltering beautiful collection of sound that somehow coalesces and disperses at various points, operating like it’s a living breathing entity. And then you realise that it’s been weaving this magic throughout the album, lurking under his words, barely accenting some of his phrases, leaving others bare, moving forward, lurching behind, an ambiguous current of sound. There is a tension between the sound and the voice , the improvised and the prepared.
Singing along to this peculiar sonic entity is a curious enterprise, particularly for someone of the stature of Sylvian. Though truth be told he has been leaning in this direction for a while. Hell even Wikipedia refers to his career which encompasses his time in Japan and collaborations with everyone from Robert Fripp, Burnt Friedman, members of Can and Ryuichi Sakamoto as ‘esoteric.’ And this may be one of his more esoteric albums thus far. It’s beautiful bold and truly unique in whichever world you care to peer at it from.
BOB BAKER FISH
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