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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Challenging and ultimately brilliant....but don't start here
If you liked Japan and David Sylvian's first album (Brilliant Trees, with hits like "Ink and the Well") then this might be the album for you, but not just yet.

The voice is the same (mellifluous baritone), indeed better, but the sparse, avant garde accompaniment might be a shock. Better to take his career in chronological order. If you make it as far as Manafon...
Published 18 months ago by Stephen Baker

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Self Indulgent
I loved Japan without reservations, and Sylvian with some reservations. Sylvian is a world unto himself in music, capable of brilliance and soaring beauty. But but but he can also drift off and produce an irritating scratchy irrelevance such as this. This is actually the worst record I've ever heard by an artist I love, and by a huge margin. It defies listening, and after...
Published on 6 Feb. 2013 by Neil Holliday


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Challenging and ultimately brilliant....but don't start here, 17 Dec. 2013
By 
Stephen Baker - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Manafon (Audio CD)
If you liked Japan and David Sylvian's first album (Brilliant Trees, with hits like "Ink and the Well") then this might be the album for you, but not just yet.

The voice is the same (mellifluous baritone), indeed better, but the sparse, avant garde accompaniment might be a shock. Better to take his career in chronological order. If you make it as far as Manafon you are in for a rare treat, but it's just possible that you and Mr Sylvian will cite artistic differences and part company before you get here.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Film Bleached of Colour Yet Still with a Leading Role, 24 Feb. 2012
By 
Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Manafon (Audio CD)
Maddy Costa in `The Guardian' described this album as "a forbidding proposition", but then went on to say that with the right approach it "becomes mesmerising". David Sylvian's latest album to date (2012) is certainly a radical departure, and will unfortunately disappoint listeners on their first hearing, who might then give up and move on to something else. It disappointed me too. But each subsequent play made me appreciate more the value of this stunning work.

The music is still subtly crafted, as one would expect, and this despite the paring down of instruments - and indeed, a paring down of sheer instrumental notes. And Sylvian's voice has matured with an honest, haunting quality. But how to adequately describe the music to be heard on this set is a problem for this reviewer. Why did Sylvian adopt such a sparse approach to songs, which if re-arranged differently could become standard pop-rock fodder. The one word that formulated in my mind to concisely explain Sylvian's approach here is `brave'.

Slow folksy ballads from a real or imaginary locale are sung with minimal instrumental accompaniment (and I mean minimal). Yet great care and attention, as always, is given to this, including electronic sampling effects. Each track adopts the overall minimalist form but each is different - indeed one is, curiously, an instrumental.

Sylvian sings stories of lost and losing people - "There's a man down in the valley, trying to stop time in its tracks" - and of lives "without purchase, no story to tell ... Here lies a man without qualities." These last lines are from a song called `The Rabbit Skinner', and with a drawing on the inner sleeve of Sylvian holding a dead rabbit, one wonders if we are to infer that the skinner is Sylvian.

The CD's song titles say it all: songs of `Emily Dickinson'; of `Random Acts of Senseless Violence'; of the man who would never be `The Greatest Living Englishman'. In this latter, Sylvian comments how "It's such a melancholy blue or a grey of no significance", and indeed the whole album is like watching a film bleached of colour but one still with a strong leading man. The only poor episodes for me lie at the album's heart with the half-minute pretentious `125 Spheres' and the subsequent `Snow White in Appalachia'.

But these are mild longueurs in an album full of depth, sincerity - and, yes, delight! Brave man!
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51 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mr. Sylvian has painted his masterpiece, 9 Aug. 2009
This review is from: Manafon (Audio CD)
Oh well, I can tell you what will happen when a lot of the reviews will have been published: there will be writers who will miss that "persona" of Sylvian who created albums like BRILLIANT TREES or DEAD BEES ON A CAKE; and there will be some writers (hopefully the majority!) who will love this song cycle (I'm quite sure the great Richard Williams will like this album very much, the man who has just released the fine book THE BLUE MOMENT about the groundbreaking atmosphere of Miles Davis' KIND OF BLUE and its long echoes). The reason for such controversial reactions: the voice is the only instrument that is carrying the melody.

There are no grooves, no classic harmonies that supply the perfomance (the flights) of the voice. The music comes from the free improv-scene (Evan Parker, Christian Fennesz a.o.) and creates strangely spidery textures you might never have heared before as a "background" or environment for a singer. Pop beyond Pop, modern chamber music with a touch of jazz and the Japanese art of playing sine waves and turntables...

The moods are exquisite, the lyrics enigmatic, and the singing has that kind of nakedness where artists risk a lot. This is music that belongs to the same class as the late Talk Talk albums and Scott Walker's TILT or THE DRIFT. It is a good thing that there are still some guys on the planet who are looking for new horizons and who are not so much interested in repeating a formula that will constantly please the conservative part of their audience.

When Sylvian recorded BLEMISH, he discovered new areas for his songwriting - MANAFON is the best continuation of that path you can imagine. Although this music is at times raw, violent, tender and melancolic, it has a rewarding impact on everybody who is ready to follow this rare combination of free playing and deep melodies. In his fine review in MOJO Mike Barnes writes about the fact how surprisingly well music and voice are moving around one another though they come out of totally different worlds.

By the way, the deluxe package contains Phil Hopkins' excellent black-and-white film AMPLIFIED GESTURE. I had the opportunity to see a pre-screening of it at the 5. PUNKTFESTIVAL in Kristiansand at the beginning of September. You do not hear Sylvian singing a single note in that film, but you listen to well-chosen instrumental passages of the music as well as to all the great stories of the pioneers of the free improv-scene from Japan, England, and Austria who made a living thing like MANAFON possible with their passion and love for a music without safety nets.

With all due respect - and knowing that some words are simply used too often in the description of music, this record is stunning, beautiful, heartbreaking and, yes, kind of blue. Nothing less.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sylvian scratches the edges of some dark surfaces, 15 Sept. 2009
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This review is from: Manafon (Audio CD)
David Sylvian's career has spanned a thirty-year period, initially finding its way through the popular New Romantic movement with the band Japan. Sylvian subsequently went on to produce a quality body of mature solo work, his debut emerging in 1984 with Brilliant Trees. Going from strength to strength ever since, he's reinvented himself musically at various stages along the way.
His latest release, Manafon, is an unconventional work and perhaps one of the most diverse to date, and testament to his development. It sees Sylvian stripped bare of any lavish trimmings. The compositions reach out with naked hands, clinging to intelligent and sometimes complex observations and rigorous study of character.

Sylvian scratches the edges of some dark surfaces; however the centrefold is even more expressive with its hues of jaded normality - a conceptual status throughout.

Sylvian portrays deep insights with his lonely textured vocals, grasping the heart of the subject and shaping it in a way that only his own strength of voice could direct. Instrumentation is sparse yet effective and orchestrated in a unique way - the diverse sounds intervene at all the right moments integrating well with the mood. His haunting lullaby has a strong sense of purpose - pivoted centrally throughout the album against its dark fabric - the colours of which are all exceptionally responsive. With production that's crystal clear - every creek or stirring within the atmosphere can be heard - all reacting and responding with an immense sharpness.

"Maybe I'm attracted to the stories of individuals who search for meaning on their own terms," says Sylvian. "But what I'm fascinated by is the devotion to a creative discipline. The meaning with which the work imbues the life regardless of its reception and, to a certain extent, its importance."

Manafon isn't just a listening experience - it's a work that encompasses every nuance of explicit chamber instrumentation, melody and structure - the qualities of which become more engrained with every listen.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Self Indulgent, 6 Feb. 2013
By 
Neil Holliday (Barcelona, Spain) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Manafon (Audio CD)
I loved Japan without reservations, and Sylvian with some reservations. Sylvian is a world unto himself in music, capable of brilliance and soaring beauty. But but but he can also drift off and produce an irritating scratchy irrelevance such as this. This is actually the worst record I've ever heard by an artist I love, and by a huge margin. It defies listening, and after several attempts, I've still not found the urge to hear it all the way through.
A strong recommendation is to try to listen to it on you-tube before spending money, as this is (as the other reviews show) very much a love-it-or-hate-it album.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Not one of his best, unfortunately, 25 May 2014
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This review is from: Manafon (Audio CD)
As a long time Sylvian fan I always loved his albums and would play them over and over Brilliant Trees, Gone to Earth, Damage and of course Dead bees on a cake just pure genius but Manafon just doesn't work for me it seems totally disjointed and stark, gone is all the beautiful layering and textures to be replaced with dischordant sounds I've had the album for about 18 months now hoping to find a way into it, but alas that hasn't happened so I would advise you to hear it before you buy it
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A step too far for me, 5 Dec. 2009
By 
PaulR "PaulR" (Central England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Manafon (Audio CD)
Anyone who has tracked David Sylvians career will know that he is not an artist who could ever be accused of working to a formula, given the variety of his music (both solo & collaborative) over the years. With 'Manafon' and the previous 'Blemish' its fair to say that David has stepped up the level of adventure & experimentation in his work.

Sadly for me, Manafon is a just a step into experimental music too far for me - the voice is still magnificent as ever, but it sounds like he sings the same 'tune' on a few tracks and not even that glorious voice can sway me. I use the term 'tune' loosely here because the backing instruments seem to grate, scrape & bang (to my ears) in a totally uncoordinated fashion. Other reviewers may appreciate the experimental nature of the instrumentation on Manfon but to me it sounds like a kid let loose in a music store - jumping about from one instrument to the other in a random, tuneless and talentless fashion.

Some say its free form jazz, some say these guys are the best on the planet at what they do - thats as maybe, but I have never liked jazz and this latest Sylvian release is just not my bag.

Thanks for the ride David, we have visited some nice places along the way, but stop the bus, I get off here - youre still my favourite male vocalist but with Blemish & Manafon your just not singing stuff I like anymore.
Thanks for the memories.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Sounds like monkeys loose in a music shop. DON'T BOTHER., 14 Jan. 2015
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This review is from: Manafon (Audio CD)
Utter rubbish from a genius. What a waste of cardboard and plastic. Avoid. Go buy Nine Horses instead.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Sylvian Stripped Bare, 23 Sept. 2009
By 
G. ASLETT "g2525" (England, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Manafon (Audio CD)
Manafon the sister album to 2003's Blemish is David Sylvian continuing in the vein of stripped down songs.
Essentially he is outputting songs that are without the layers of production of say works like Brilliant Trees, Gone to Earth and more recently Nine Horses. Sylvian refuses to make his songs sound like the Pop Songs of what his fan base expect. Instead he is stubborn and stays true to his artistic journey. What he is delivering are the same songs that he has always produced but without the layers of varnish. If you take Blemish's "The Only Daughter" there are pleny of remixes of this song, and one in particular on a well known website that shows video content, where the final produced mix sounds like something from Brilliant Trees. David Sylvian just wants to present us with the stripped down versions for his own artistic reasons. Maybe he has had to strip his life down after his trauma to get it back together again. I think it is very interesting how he is using music as an art form to do this. Essentially Blemish and Manafon are albums about dealing with emotional pain. He has deconstructed himself and slowly he is putting himself back together. A long and slow process, that has taken these two albums, Blemish and Manafon, to undertake. I think we will see a return to the more melodic Sylvian on the next album. I also think it will be even better than works he has done in the past and these two albums represented here will of been worth it.
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17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sylvian at his best, 16 Sept. 2009
By 
Simon Purdon "simonpurdon" (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Manafon (Audio CD)
I didnt expect to like this album after Sylvian's last solo release Blemish. "bold" and "uncompromising" is how his record label described it pre release. Yes its not particularly commercial but that's now what Sylvian is about. On Manafon he worked with a number of leading experimental musicians to create a backdrop of sounds, moods and atmospheres to which he responded with his gorgeous vocals. Surprisingly its a lot more melodic than many would think. The opening Small Metal Gods is almost folk like in its delivery, the lyric describing Sylvian's loss of faith in the Hindu gods he once worshipped. I can't pinpoint a highlight on this record as it's all so damn good but if I had to nominate it would be the stunning Emily Dickinson with Evan Parker's beautiful solo at the end of the song. I'm glad Sylvian is still writing songs and he is prepared to take chances. There are very few artists today who have his focus and integrity. Manafon is the record of 2009...easily.
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