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David Sylvian - Manafon CD (album) cover

MANAFON

David Sylvian

Crossover Prog


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Neu!mann
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars The only reviews here so far of David Sylvian's year 2009 solo album have been a couple of hit-and-run, rating-only sneak attacks, hardly worth the effort when considering music this challenging. I can certainly understand the anxiety of trying to actually describe it: like the album "Blemish" it extends his fascination with esoteric, atonal improvisation even farther away from the gorgeous ambient pop music of earlier favorites like "Secrets of the Beehive" and "Gone to Earth". But take a few moments to share at least some impressions, please. This isn't music easily summed up by a couple of stars.

It's an album tailor-made to confound the casual listener, and the work of a songwriter grown suddenly tired of conventional song forms. Each of the nine selections here plays more like a poetry reading (barely) set to music, with the singer's rich baritone right up front in the mix and providing the only anchor to anything resembling a melody. The words themselves are melancholy, rueful, intimate, ironic...existing on a rarified plane high above what usually passes for lyric writing these days, and delivered by Sylvian with an almost world-weary resignation at times.

The Zen-like instrumental accompaniment (by a small army of guest musicians in Europe and the Far East) sounds completely unplanned, arranged as if to capture the spontaneity of the moment. Fans with damaged attention spans night call it boring; I would rather describe it as subtle, intuitive, and attractively minimalist: the perfect background noise for listeners who like their avant-garde especially avant. To get a better understanding of how the album sounds, simply take a look at some of the featured instruments on the album's page here at Prog Archives: someone plays 'sine waves'; somebody else is credited with a 'no-input mixer'; and another contributor plays 'turntables' (I'm guessing that must be the barely audible pops and scratches in the background of several tracks).

For easy comparison a parallel might be drawn to kindred spirit BRIAN ENO. Both share a similar art-rock background (in ROXY MUSIC and JAPAN); both abandoned traditional songwriting; both have worked with ROBERT FRIPP, so forth and so on. But David Sylvian is not, unlike Eno, a non-musician, and even at their most abstract and inscrutable his albums demand closer attention than Eno's ambient doodles, rewarding the patient listener with far more depth of meaning.

A quick postscript: I awarded the earlier "Blemish" with a respectable two stars, in acknowledgement of a unique and difficult piece of work likely to separate the hardcore fan from the uncommitted tourist. "Manafon" only refines the same obscure musical impulses, but this album easily earns a solid four-star rating for daring to re-examine our perceptions of what Progressive Music really is.

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Posted Friday, August 13, 2010 | Review Permalink

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