The Wire - David Sylvian "Sleepwalkers"

12.10.10

The constant, of course, is that voice; an instrument of awesome beauty that's ensured that almost everything the man producing it has released since Japan's Tin Drum have provided an exquisite, if occasionally overly pretty listening experience. At times the attractiveness of David Sylvian's work has felt a little too rote, a little too tasteful, but his two major albums this decade - 2003's Blemish and 2009's Manafon - have been brave attempts at roughing up the textures and shaking up the forms.

Alongside the adventurous work he has produced under his own name over this period, he has continued to guest on other artists' projects as well as setting up the group Nine Horses with Burnt Friedman and Steve Jansen. It's from this body of work that Sleepwalkers is compiled, fulfilling a similar function for the last decade to that served by the superb Everything and Nothing collection for his 1980s and 90s extracurricular output. It's similarly accessible as well - fans alienated by the starkness of Sylvian's current improv based musical settings will find this, mostly, comfortingly easy on the ear.

Inevitably it gets a bit too classy for its own good on occasion - the Nine Horses tracks and cuts from Steve Jansen's Slope veer into underwhelming coffee-table territory - but there is excellent material here that makes for a satisfyingly coherent collection. Readymade's "Sugarfuel" is more rhythmically forceful than anything Sylvian has produced since his 90s work with Robert Fripp, and both the title track (featuring Polwechsel's Martin Brandlmayr) and "Transit" from Christian Fennesz's Venice show Sylvian at his most daring.

Most impressive of all is the sole instrumental track "Trauma", Sylvian solo on guitar, layering feedback splutters over a lush bed of tremolo. An outtake from Blemish, it suggests a possible next step for Sylvain: to apply his recent songwriting system (that of developing his vocal contribution in response to the improvised material of his guest collaborators) to his own instrumental work.

KEITH MOLINE



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