Boomkat Product Review:
As with Scott Walker's latter-day work, Sylvian's music is far-removed from the chart-dwelling hits of his youth, instead taking on a ruthlessly cerebral and experimental agenda featuring a whole posse of notables including Fennesz, Otomo Yoshihide, Evan Parker, John Tilbury, Keith Rowe, Sachiko M, Burkhard Stangl, Michael Moser and many more.
Assisting him to this end is a roster of great improvisatory talents, supplying Manafon with a beautifully rendered, supremely detailed backdrop of timbres, textures and vibrations. Guitarists have been of particular importance to Sylvian albums over the past two decades or so - Marc Ribot and Bill Frisell were among the key musicians contributing to 1999's Dead Bees On A Cake, and for Blemish Sylvian struck up fruitful collaborations with Christian Fennesz and - perhaps most significantly - the late Derek Bailey.
The latter's striking improvisational style seems to have impacted greatly on Sylvian's approach to songsmithery, and traces of the Bailey's spidering, playing are detectable in the dissonant twangs of Tetuzi Akiyama and Otomo Yoshihide who appear on the album. Fennesz returns for Manafon too, bringing his Polwechsel associates Burkhard Stangl and Werner Dafeldecker with him, while additionally, prepared guitar experimenter Keith Rowe appears, This distinguished ensemble weave magic under Sylvian's supervision, fabricating the finest and most ornate of sonic environments for the band leader's rich, stately croak.
Indeed, Sylvian's vocal inevitably takes the central role, offering a melodic route through an album of ostensible disorder, reaching its finest hour during Manafon's centrepiece: 'The Greatest Living Englishman'. Here Sylvian is joined by discordant string quartet recordings - scratched and warped on Yoshihide's turntable, while the most carefully poised of guitar and piano performances match-up against the imperious subtlety of Toshimaru Nakamura's no-input mixing board static and Sachiko M's intricate formation of cobweb-like sinewaves.
Manafon is a recording on which all the minutiae resound with great lucidity, the more you listen, the more it reveals its complexity and brilliance. This is far from an easy ecord, and most likely it'll take a couple of playthroughs to get anywhere with its daring idiom, but once engaged, you might not hear a more enriching body of work all year.