The Observer Music Monthly - Nine Horses "Snow Borne Sorrow"


Careful Whispers

5/5 stars

Amy Lawrence welcomes back the ex-Japan singer, who has emerged from a difficult period with an album that's as life-affirming as it is urbane.

This is like meeting an old friend again. For David Sylvian anoraks who have been wondering and worrying about him, Nine Horses comes like a welcome call out of the blue.
We have been imaginary friends since I caught onto the coat-tails of Japan just as they were about to combust musically (was I really 10 when Tin Drum came out?). Hearing the maturing style of his solo experiments soon enabled his audience / fans / imaginary friends to understand why he felt the need to move on from the constraints of his original band.
Since he relaunched himself in 1984 with Brilliant Trees, Sylvian has released 17 records with a variety of musicians. In Nine Horses he collaborates with his brother Steve Jansen and Burnt Friedman. Together they have created a sound that is the perfect platform for his velvet voice. There are echoes of Japan's atmospherics, layers of subtle keyboards, whispers from signature muted trumpet, meandering saxophone and clarinet. You are invited to drift deep into Sylvian land.
After the dark introspection of his previous offering, Blemish, this is a far more accessible Sylvian. The colour is back in his cheeks, the pulse back in his veins, the muse back on his shoulder. Blemish - so minimalist, so bleak - was written as part of the grieving process for his collapsed marriage to poet and vocalist Ingrid Chavez. Although some of Snow Borne Sorrow's wounded lyrics suggest he is not yet totally out of the woods, the songs are sumptuous enough to convince you he's in masterful form. They feel optimistic somehow.
'Wonderful World' is a strong opener. Jazzy, cinematic, and carried by a slinky double bass riff, the mood of the record evolves from the first beat. Onwards, through the dirty electronic guitar of 'Darkest Birds', the smokey blues of 'Snow Borne Sorrow', the gentle harmonies of 'Atom And Cell', to the killer finale, 'The Librarian', it is all beautifully arranged.
Add sublime cameos from, most notably Ryuichi Sakamoto (keyboards) and Arve Henriksen (trumpet), and you're left with one of the finest sets in Sylvian's solo oeuvre. Put simply, it flows effortlessly from start to finish.
Snow Borne Sorrow probably won't triumph commercially, but musically, it is a contender for album of the year. Great to have you back on form, David.


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