Albums such as this requires active listening. Over the years, David Sylvian has proved apt at putting his particular mark on many different genres. Manafon finds the artist deep in repose and solidarity.
Using the broadest terms to describe it does it no favors, raising more questions than answers: “Experimental Rock”, “Avante-garde”, “Minimalist”, “Ambient”, “Atmospheric.” I suppose those terms all apply, but could really mean a lot different as well. The best description I can come up with is a modern western take on classical Japanese. (Please forgive my ignorance of the actual name of the style, or any inaccuracy in the description. That particular music is not even close to my area of expertise.) Sylvian (always in the forefront) sings melodic, half spoken-word lyrics between occasional, sharp punctuations of stringed instruments, otherwise in the background. Think of the music from the Masaki Kobayashi film Kwaidan. From there, the music deviates from that comparison in several ways (other than language). First, there is also sometimes creepy, Mark Snow (The X-Files) piano and exotic, jazzy wind instrumentation. Second, there is sometimes subtle and interesting (but always conservatively used) glitchy, electronic manipulation.
Lastly, what are the songs about? Unlike the Japanese epics of sea battles, ancient ghosts, and myths, Sylvian’s Manafon take a very different approach. The album feels like a collection of short stories. Personal, stream-of-consciousness vignettes in the desolation depicted on the cover. These songs are abstract feelings that burn quickly and leave only their smoke to consider in the darkness of the forest, between lights.
I think this is a great album, but one for very select times. It demands to appreciated in its own way, without compromise. Play it loudly, alone, and without distraction. With a little patience, Sylvian’s world here opens up and the riches unfold.
P.S. Also of note, a sister album, Died in the Wool- Manafon Variations is also available, with different versions and extra songs. That’s a review for another time though!
P.S.- I’m new at blogging, so here’s the ineloquent amazon associates disclaimer:
“We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.”
Basically, if you use my link to buy the album, I get a small cut!