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coverpic flag England - Full Moon 161 - 11/02/09

David Sylvian
Samadhi Sound / Playground

David Sylvian has been in the game for more than 30 years. First as the front figure of exotic pop band Japan, who mixed glam and new wave with hints of/themes from the Eastern (as in Eastern Asia, not only the band's name, but with songs like "Communist China", "Canton", "Visions of China", and "Cantonese Boy", and with a small pic of Mao on the cover over their 5th and final album Tin Drum.) Popular pop star David Sylvian wanted to go on as a more serious (not that the Japan stuff were easy-listening) singer-songwriter, and started his solo career with Brilliant Trees (1984). I remember playing it a lot at the time, but since then I've parted paths with Mr Sylvian. Sylvian has been doing a lot of styles and genres over the years, and has had contributions to his albums from / been collaborating with a lot of musicians: Ryuichi Sakamoto, Jon Hassell, former Can members Holger Czukay, Jaki Liebezeit and Michael Karoli, Bill Nelson (formerly of BeBop Deluxe), Robert Fripp (Sylvian and Fripp collaborated over three albums), Talvin Singh, avant-garde guitarist Marc Ribot, jazz trumpeteer Kenny Wheeler, jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, Norwegian trumpeteers Arve Henriksen and Nils Petter Molvær, and Swedish vocalist Stina Nordenstam. The list is very long. And, he has made quite a few solo albums (even a reunited Japan, in 1990-1991, under the moniker Rain Tree Crow, as well as a project called Nine Horses, along with his brother Steve Jansen, who also was in Japan): Gone to Earth (1986), Secrets of the Beehive (1987), Dead Bees on a Cake (1999), Blemish (2003). Musically he's explored pop, contemporary world music, jazz, electronica, avant-garde, vocal and/or instrumental music of the more or less experimental kind, progressive stuff, etc. And, he's started his own independent label, Samadhi Sound.

Manafon is his first solo in 6 years, and my return to checking where/what David Sylvian's at. It seems Sylvian's become more of an eccentric than he's ever been. He's even leading a eremite life on the US north-east, alone in a forest in New England. He creates music far off the regular, popular track, his songs are more like contemporary singer/songwriter stuff of the barstool (or, maybe armchair in front of a fireplace) storytelling kind. In fact, some of the titles/stories on Manafon could've been epic novels or old style poetry, like with: "Small Metal Gods", "The Rabbit Skinner", "Random Acts of Senseless Violence", "The Greatest Living Englishman", "Snow White in Appalachia", "The Department of Dead Letters". A song entitled "Emily Dickinson" fulfilles the literate thread. There are also heavy hints of laidback avant jazzy moods.

Well, Manafon feels like a monumental piece of work, and it's a massive listen. I'm not sure how good it is, but it's rather fascinating within its intricacy. And, Sylvian's still got a captivating voice.

Copyright © 2009 Håvard Oppøyen e-mail address

You may also want to check out our David Sylvian article/review: Dead Bees On A Cake.

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