Pitchfork - David Sylvian "Sleepwalkers"

12.10.10

Like many singers who came of age during glam and made their name as the new romantics were wresting English rock from the punks, David Sylvian has a voice-- unashamedly mannered and theatrical and oozing wounded romanticism-- that's both inimitable and divisive. It's also been the only constant in his music over the last 30 years; the man shreds styles as a rule, often as soon as listeners have adjusted to his latest changeup. So hardcore Sylvian-ophiles are usually in it for That Voice, which has grown warmer and deeper and more restrained with experience while still being recognizable within seconds. It's the reliable pleasure that's carried listeners through Sylvian's less-than-fertile periods, the collaborations that didn't quite spark, the styles that proved an ill fit for the singing, all the downsides to his ultimately admirable brand of creative restlessness.

Sylvian's voice is certainly the only constant on Sleepwalkers, a collection of his 21st century non-album collaborations that's coherently assembled, which means it flows like an album, but artistically all over the map, which means the individual songs range from several undeniable keepers to a small handful of wince-inducing missteps. Naturally, it's the missteps which stand out on first listen. Sylvian's singing, though it's more versatile than his reputation for mannered art-rock melodrama suggests, proves very, very awkward when dropped into a slab of George Michael-esque blue-eyed soul ("Money for All", complete with Vegas-y backup singers). The oddity of appropriating the style doesn't necessarily make the song fun to listen to, but it certainly dispels the rumors that Sylvian's hardened into a pop-spurning experimentalist over the last decade.

Some old-school Sylvian fans have been turned off by his 21st century albums, which have stretched verse-chorus structure to its limit while recasting both improv-style instrumental abstraction and avant electronics as a songwriter's tools. Personally I think 2003's Blemish and 2009's Manafon are minor masterpieces, but it's easy to understand why folks who fell in love with Japan's lush, tight synth-rock might not be too keen on the way Sylvian's albums now hide the pleasure of his voice inside the forbidding box marked "free music." If you're in that camp,Sleepwalkers, despite its wildly varying quality, may come as some relief. Here, in addition to the knotty electro-acoustic/glitch stuff, brilliant Blemish-esque tracks like "Sleepwalkers" and "Transit", we also get Sylvian goes country ("Ballad of a Deadman"), Sylvian goes piano bar torch singer ("Playground Martyrs"), and so on.

Sylvian's genre-takes are always a little skewed, as befitting a guy who's worked with Holger Czukay, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and other great avant/pop synthesists. Sometimes this tweaking adds frisson to what might have otherwise been too stale, too traditional. Sylvian-goes-country twangs for sure, but it also squeals and clonks and squirms with little Matmos-like musique concrète embellishments. But on a few occasions Sylvian's sound-art touches feel like oddball window dressing on flimsy tunes. And when one of those Blemish/Manafon style songs pops up, you're struck by what a singular sound-world Sylvian's solo albums have created in the last 10 years. That's not an achievement to chuck away lightly, so it's good that Sylvian has these one-off collaborations as release valves. Sleepwalkers naturally doesn't draw you into a world as fully realized as one of Sylvian's true albums. But his fearlessness, if not quite his versatility, at tackling new sounds (and even new structures) is still a beacon, especially at an age when many of his contemporaries have fossilized into post-punk heritage acts.

JESS HARVELL


Source Article can be viewed here: Pitchfrok.com



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