nine horses - snow borne sorrow
Sunday, December 04, 2005
After the stark blemish, Sylvian has returned with a modern masterpiece that utilizes elements of avant guarde jazz and electronica melding effortlessly with Sylvian's pop sensibility to create his best release in years. Half of the disc contains material written with Steve Jansen and the other half contains material written with keyboardist/vibraphonist/remixer Burnt Friedman.
"Wonderful World" is an eerie jazz waltz featuring a vocal duet between Sylvian and Stina Nordenstam (who sounds somewhat like a cross between Shelly Duval as Olive Oyl and Rickie Lee Jones). Their 'she / he' back and forth lyrical scheme gives the song the overall feel of what could be considered as a Broadway musical show tune in the day and age of post 9/11. "Darkest Birds" is the 'poppiest' track on the disc, with slight elements of electronica and a punchier kick to the catchy chorus that gives the song a big lift. "The Banality Of Evil" is built upon a prevalent 5/4 rhythm throughout and Sylvian's polyrhythmic vocal lines may take some time to entirely sink in, but they will do just that with repeated listening. This track has a tone somewhat akin to the work of Peter Gabriel, not only in the rhythm and snaky guitar lines, but in the sinister backing vocals and grunts that appear later in this extended track. "Atom And Cell" is a slow dirge in 6/8. The sinister backing vocals and polyrhythmic vocal lines from the last track continue here, and in even greater abundance. The horn arrangement, or disarrangement to be more exact, is a nice touch that adds even more confusion to the disfunction of this plodding track dealing with the plight of the homeless. Ryuichi Sakamoto contributes some tasty piano melodies to the piece. "A History Of Holes" is another track in the odd time signature of five, with more free improvisational soloing from the horns, but the odd feel of this one is straightened out by Sylvian's smooth vocal delivery. Though the music was primarily written by Friedman, Sylvian's lyrics seem to be a little more biographical than he is usually willing to offer up, dealing with childhood memories...mostly those he has chosen to block out during most of his adult life. It may take some listening to get the gist of this track, but this one is a gem. "Snow Borne Sorrow" is a track that Jansen originally intended for a possible solo work. The harsh electronic sound of Sylvian's last release, blemish, makes a brief appearance during the introduction of this track but the song smooths out into a gentle ballad in 6/8. The lyrics detail Sylvian's recent divorce and the effect on the children. Ryuichi Sakamoto contributes another notable cameo on piano and there is some fine string quartet orchestration. "The Day The Earth Stole Heaven" is a hybrid of folk and jazz that reveals itself to be the highlight of this release. Sylvian's voice is in such fine form here. Guitarist Tim Motzer composed the music and Sylvian's melody lines are the most focused of all the selections...a perfect collaboration. "The Librarian" is the last track and is a fleshed out version of the Friedman / Jaki Liebezeit track released earlier this year. The song now has more of a pronounced groove due to the addition of drums and syncopated guitar riffs. Greater use of Morten Grønvad's vibraphone is similar to that of vibemaster Gary Burton's contributions on Bruce Cockburn's 'The Charity Of Night', and adds an excellent texture to the song. Yet there may be a little too much going on when compared to the original and the clutter of the additional instruments may have now taken away from the subtlety of Sylvian's delicate vocal delivery. But the song is still one of the stronger tunes on the disc. And the disc is Sylvian's strongest since the early nineties.