Sunday, October 17, 2010

Album Review: David Sylvian – Sleepwalkers

After the difficult Manafon album I approached David Sylvian’s collection of collaborations with some trepidation. The cover art did little to entice me in either. However with relief I noticed the presence of some strong melodies here. Sure he his moments of pretension are numerous. There are difficult Manafon-esque pieces (the title track, Five Lines), spoken word pieces like Thermal and Angels (featuring some swearing which sounds awful), and jarring instrumentals like Trauma which sounds like a leftover from Blemish.

Leaving those aside, there are a couple of great songs here which restore my faith in Sylvian and his muse. Ballad of a Deadman is a gorgeous bluesy duet with Joan Wasser, with a sort of marching band tempo and a nice string part in the middle.

Ryuichi Sakamoto is someone who Sylvian has a history with, and on World Citizen – I Won’t Be Disappointed they marry a somewhat simplistic lyric concerning the environment with a soothing electronica piece. It’s a roaring success. There are a couple of tracks he made with Nine Horses here, the best of them being the relatively sparse The Day The Earth Stole Heaven. Based on an acoustic guitar and some ‘la la la la’ backing vocals, and a great lead vocal, it was the prettiest track on Snow Borne Sorrow, and it’s worth catching here.

After the brief piano ballad Playground Martyrs, a sweetly played acoustic guitar kicks off the next track Exit / Delete, a collaboration with Takagi Masakatsu featuring a strange tale of Caroline (a recurring character in Sylvian’s more recent work) and deleted files, but it’s a gorgeous summery piece of music.

Some of the more experimental pieces work well also, Transit is a collaboration with Christian Fennesz which takes glitch electronica textures, low feedback, distortion and blends them into a very 21st century European ballad.

This collection comes as a welcome relief after Manafon. Although quite a lot of it doesn’t really work, it’s nice to hear many of the more playful tracks gathered together in one place, and in even the less successful ones offer plenty to return to.