(this review was originally written for Reax magazine, but they ceased print publication, so it wound up not running)
(5 out of 5)
Even within the fairly liberal sonic parameters of his first band, Japan, it’s always seemed that David Sylvian was an artist who continually found his artistic ambitions constrained by the reality of his current situation. Even a quarter-century of solo albums still leaves listeners feeling that Sylvian has yet to make an album that goes as far as he wants to take them. With Manafon, that situation may be rectified. Toiling around in the same murky and challenging waters as 2003’s Blemish, but with an aggressively more improvisational approach, Manafon again finds Sylvian upping the ante for the possibilities of art-pop. It’s that voice – deep, rich, and resonant, but also equally emotional and fragile – that dominates the proceedings here, but the muted, abstract instrumentation is definitely worth noting. The instruments here are plucked, bowed, and blown by members of legendary British free-jazz/improvisational troupe AMM, and it’s stunning just how well their sound meshes with Sylvian’s voice and his vivid, impressionistic lyrics. To be sure, Manafon is most definitely not a free-jazz album, but it’s also most definitely not an album by a man resting on his mid-’80s laurels. Sylvian continues to challenge himself and his listeners, by making beautiful and evocative music that’s built from unusual and extraordinary elements, and Manafon may just be the pinnacle of that effort.