As expected I’m way too skint to afford any new music with the backlog of albums on my wishlist, so I’m going to review a few that came to my attention at the end of last year.
My Dad was never really much of a New Romantic so the work of Japan passed me by, its only through the recent collaborations with Christian Fennesz and Arve Henriksen (and noted positions on The Wire and Mapsadaisical’s end of year lists) that David Sylvian has come to my attention.
I’ve been meaning to buy some of his music for a while, his contribution to the Fennesz track Transit from the album Venice is an incredibly captivating vocal emerging from the warm, creeping static.
You could wax lyrical about Sylvian’s voice for some time, his smooth baritone complements the sparse electronic arrangements of Fennesz perfectly. It is no surprise to hear that Fennesz was involved in Manafon.
From the first track, which starts with some sparse guitar picking and hushed, distant murmurs, his voice washes straight over you, alarmingly close. Whereas on Transit Sylvian’s voice seems almost intertwined with Fennesz’ electronics, the texture of his voice echoing the textured guitar drones, here his voice floats above the music with occasional sharp plucks of guitar seemingly bouncing off his warm vocals. That’s not to say it isn’t cohesive; such is the strength of his voice the instruments are in constant reaction to it, the vocals providing the melody and binding the sparse strings, piano and electronics. This is perhaps best exemplified on The Greatest Living Englishman
“Here we are then, here we are / notes from a suicide / And he will never ever be / The greatest living Englishman … His aspirations visited him nightly / And amounted to so little”
Sylvian’s voice is so striking and used in such a melodic fashion it’s easy to just got lost in its tones and textures and forget it’s also communicating some information. One of the beauties of this record is the slow revealing of new layers of noise and lyrics on repeated listens. On The Greatest Living Englishman his lyrics are economically delivered, discussing the failed ambition of a man on his deathbed. His lyrics retain an ambiguity, only the first track on the album Small Metal Gods is written in first person, so the extent of autobiographical content is unclear. TGLE though doesn’t come across as a plea of self-importance, and retains a reticent delivery.
“And he was never gonna be /The Greatest Living Englishman /He had ideas above his station / Minor virtues go unmentioned”.
An absorbing listen, heartily recommended.
A special mention to Ruud Van Empel‘s beautiful cover art, which I think gives a great indication of the adventure to be embarked on as you explore the depths of the music on Manafon.
Extracts from the album are available it’s own website, including a very cool video for Small Metal Gods.