Saturday, December 08, 2007

CD Review No 7- David Sylvian

Japan's image and music was almost too uniformly well modulated and contrived. Their plundering of oriental musical motifs was like hearing them steal someone else's culture and parody it. It was often uncomfortable to listen to, you just wanted them to be honest and less self consciously deceitful. Sylvian's super smooth voice seemed another in a whole line of singers running off with the cut of Brian Ferry's suit. With the track 'Ghosts' he appeared suddenly to touch on something very immediate and distinctively personal. It was there only really big hit, and it was the moment I became briefly interested.

Twenty years on and Sylvian's voice has matured and thankfully lost much of its mannered warble. The quality of it is still like consuming large quantities of exotic chocolate truffle, rich and creamy warm in texture. In the past the musical settings have tried to match that full blooded silkiness and made them difficult offerings to digest all in one go without a sense of nausea rising. You scream out 'Enough! Enough! Any more and I'll be forced to vomit!!'

I've been catching up with his most recent output - two albums are minor gems - ' Blemish' a solo album, and 'Snow borne sorrow' with his new band Nine Horses. While they remain polished and sophisticated, the music is sparser, more angular and has unpredictable cross currents and fusions. 'Blemish' in particular shifts from long self-revelatory electronic backed tracks, such as the eponymous title track, to discomforting juxtapositions of free-improv guitar from maestro Derek Bailey, with Sylvian's well rounded tones.
It often sounds like something beautiful is being audibly crushed under a brutal foot. This is very human music interwoven with threads of lyrical pain. On 'The Only Daughter' the vocals quality is fractured as though impeded, ending up being stuttered across the ether. It's as if a deep emotional hurt is finally struggling to emerge and be heard. The final track 'Fire in the forest' begins with the words 'There is always sunshine, above the grey sky, I will try to find it, yes I will try' as if he once almost gave up hope, but has somehow recovered some optimism which he doesn't fully trust yet.

'Snow borne sorrow' is altogether a more positive musical, if not philosophical affair, with a knowing confident swagger, and a less striven for lyrical message. Perhaps the ghosts surrounding his failed marriage have been expelled. Or is it the presence of old collaborators Sakamoto and Jenson, that makes this album sound grounded and less cathartic. Perhaps the wounded heart has healed and cooled in the two years in-between 'Blemish' and 'Snow borne sorrow'. All things have passed and lost there ability to pierce him to the core. The frail trail of optimism present at the end of 'Blemish' has opened out into a confident re- assertion of faith, with greater depth and character to it. The first track 'Wonderful world' has a lighter, otimistic tone, with a spring in its step -

'It's a wonderful world, and you take and you give, and the sun fills the sky in the space where you live , its a day full of dreams , its a dream of a day, and the joy that it brings nearly sweeps her away, it's a wonderful world as the buildings fall down, and you quicken your step till your feet leave the ground, and your soaring above all the sorrow below, and your falling in love with those you don't know '

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