Saturday, April 08, 2017


This album was originally released in 2009 on the Samadhi Sound label, David Sylvian's own boutique imprint, while I was working for the label's distributor. I had been aware of the fact that he had taken a detour into the 'musical avant-garde' in the prior decade or more, but you couldn't register my interest on a bar graph. Why on earth would I be interested in a New Romantic lightweight like Sylvian, no matter how off the musical deep-end he'd traversed? Well, I am one stubborn motherfucker, as you know, but given I was obligated to familiarise myself with the product we carried, I gave it a spin.

Have I told this story before? Probably. Upon first listen, I immediately concluded that it was likely the worst thing I'd hear all year and made the wild assumption that it probably wouldn't go double platinum with the consumers of Australia. It was, after all, an exceedingly 'difficult' listen. I was correct with the second bit (it truly did tank, though that's never been an indicator of quality), but something drew me back to it. About a week later, I gave it another spin. The first experience had elicited such a strong reaction in me, that I was a little bit intrigued. This immediate, strong repulsion, as you know, can sometimes be a sign that something good is lurking within a recording. Over the next few days, I played it several times and noted that there was something special about it - Sylvian was onto something good.

I really should note the method of operation here: Manafon is David Sylvian stripped to his bare bones. It borders on being an a cappella recording. There is musical accompaniment from a variety of hotshots from the avant scene - Otomo Yoshihide, Evan Parker, Keith RoweJohn Tilbury, Christian Fennesz and more - but the actual 'music' here is extremely minimal. Played in a cavernous warehouse, as I had been, it sounded like simply Sylvian mournfully moaning away in the corner with nobody else to keep him company. With quality headphones on, you will hear the full package, and I thoroughly recommend the experience.

Of course, many years later I can conclude that while the music of Japan still register nothing with me (not entirely true: they mostly register negative sentiments), David Sylvian is very much a Scott Walker-like figure: one who found pop fame early, left that world behind and has pursued his own highly idiosyncratic path since, one littered with great musical riches. Along this path you will find some excellent recordings such as 1987's Secrets Of The Beehive (I am extremely partial to this track), 1999's Dead Bees On A Cake and 2003's Blemish. And that's merely scratching the surface.

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