I am entirely unfamiliar with David Sylvian’s previous work with the band Japan, which is what he was famous for, so when I picked up his newest album under the auspices of a new band called Nine Horses, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The band is a collaboration between Sylvian (formerly of the glam-rock group Japan), his brother Steve Jansen, and the funnily-named electronic composer Burnt Friedman. The first listen was somewhat jarring—Nine Horses mixes a variety of influences, from soft jazz and swing to indie pop. The opening track, for instance, opens with a flare of timpani and orchestral dissonance, resolving into a line of jazz snare pizzicato upright base. Add to this Sylvian’s throaty, organic voice cooing, “It’s a wonderful world, and you take and you give; and the sun fills the sky in the space where you live.”
Snow Borne sorrow is a sonic backrub, an album of absolutely gorgeous euphony and brilliant production. Sylvian takes an approach to instrumentation that is minimal but precise like a hypodermic needle—the different instrumental voices are layered and included in such a way that gives each maximum effect—so that, for instance, the interplay between Sylvian’s breathy baritone and the resounding thuds of the bass is accentuated by the occasional inclusion of a line of feminine scat, a flourish of cymbals, a splash of piano.
One of my favorite tracks is “The Banality of Evil,” an icily-cool, jazzy piece featuring a soft, fuzzy saxophone and a laid-back bass-driven groove and of course Sylvian’s rumbling croon, “The perpetrators are in denial (the banality of evil); king of the castle, room at the top, off with their heads, chop them off (the banality of evil).” The song’s awash in little touches, polyphonic voices, accents of sax or guitar.
I’m aware that it was Yuka, a native Japanese woman who moved to Britain with Sylvian, that introduced him to jazz influences, and I guess she’s the very opposite of a Yoko, because the jazz influence has inspired Sylvian to make some of the coolest music I’ve heard in a long time. Snow Borne Sorrow is a gem of an album; it’s fabulous to listen to, and I recommend to just about anyone, as its an amalgam of music that has an infinitely wide appeal.
Say what you will about Sylvian’s days with the glam-rock Japan, but Nine Horses is a group to watch.