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3.2 out of 5 stars
3.2 out of 5 stars
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on 17 December 2013
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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on 15 September 2009
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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on 2 October 2009
The music on this album is inspiring and always engaging, creating an interesting and unique aural experience. But for me Sylvian's structured lyrics and vocals are at odds with the music's free form and for me a distraction. This also has the impact of making his vocal style too mannered, a problem I did not find with Blemish. Time will tell, but this album presently ranks alongside Dead Bees on A Cake (Darkest Dreaming excluded) as my least favourite Sylvian offering.

However, the deluxe version is certainly worth getting for the 5.1 mix and the excellent Amplified Gesture documentary.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 February 2012
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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on 16 January 2016
David's challenging second major solo output on Samadhisound
Don't expect Japan, obviously. But also don't expect Nine Horses, one of David's seminal pieces of work, in a very different jazz infused vein.
Manafon is David evolving and further maturing as a serious player in the world of improv music.
You really have to listen with a decent HiFi, and in silence - or with decent headphones (don't listen on the tube, or at least not if you really want to hear all that this music has to offer)
There are exquisite nuances to this work that beg to be listened to with care and patience.
David's voice is sublime, and the lyrics set along side the sine waves, the guitar, piano, clicks and pops, courtesy of some seriously big guns in improv music, are just a delight.
Lyrically very rich and dense - in that there are a lot of words here - sees David at his creative finest.
Have bought several copies of this - to give away and enlighten other music lovers ears.
You've got to listen several times. This isn't immediate easy or throw away pop music.
Engage and allow - open your mind and ears and you are in for a sonic treat.
Manafon variations (Died in the Wool - same artist) is best approached after Manafon in my opinion, but if you hear either you will want to explore more.
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on 25 May 2014
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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on 9 August 2009
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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on 10 November 2009
It's well established that human beings are pattern-loving creatures, even able to convince themselves that they find patterns in instances where patterns emphatically do not occur (constellations, easy; this music, no need). As many of the negative reviews here attest, the utter absence of traditional musical patterns can prove quite disorienting -- even disconcerting -- for many, especially when the listener's purpose is simply reduced to one of fulfilling his or her pre-existing, subjectively preferential expectations. And, given how predictable and familiar most music already is, driven as it is into formulaic, narrow stylistic genres with the sole purpose of guaranteeing the commercial acceptance of artificially described and descried niche audiences, the time to move on surely arrived a while ago. After all, there are now some countless millions of readily recognizable songs and recordings available, meaning that Sylvian poses absolutely no threat to conventional music-making. Though he does offer much more promise.

With "Manafon", Sylvian takes many more steps into the directions set by immersions in sound and improvisation mapped out by "Blemish" and "Naoshima". His recent collaboration on "Cartography " by Arve Henriksen includes a few pieces that revealed some of these techniques within more conventional musical settings. But "Manafon" goes on to more radical ends, with a heritage that must acknowledge the highly staged "Orpheus, The Lowdown" by Peter Blegvad and Andy Partridge and the remarkable body of work assembled by Bryan Day and his "Shelf Life", "Eloine" and other improvising units. Less concrete than "Orpheus", and far more emotive than the "Shelf Life" recordings, Sylvian clearly aims at forcibly dragging the form -- and listeners along with him -- into a broader soundstage. And the soundstage is remarkable. Both an artistic and technical achievement, the sheer sonic presence offered by this recording is profoundly ear-opening. Set within the context of Sylvian's sense of conscience and consciousness, "Manafon" is not the first example of reconsidered improvisation, but it certainly opens newer ways of perceiving the open-ended and transient experience of music.

So, even if you find this work intolerable, give it another listen every few months. If you're still unable to orient yourself outside the boundaries knocked down by "Manafon", Sylvian at least deserves your respect for his honesty in continuing to question his own work and his own methods -- rather than simply, reliably, predictably, commercially and tediously repeating them.
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on 25 May 2011
For me, this CD probably sets the benchmark for beautifully crafted / innovative / melodic / inspirational audio compositions.
Packaged beautifully, a work of pure genius. David Sylvian has, without a shadow of a doubt, laid down the gauntlet to all musicians everywhere. If anyone produces and album better than this, i will be suprised.
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on 5 December 2009
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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