David Sylvian: Sleepwalkers
Samadhi Sound

Sleepwalkers is not a new collection of original material by David Sylvian, but instead a compilation of collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Nine Horses (featuring Burnt Friedman and Steve Jansen), Christian Fennesz, Jan Bang, Erik Honoré, Arve Henriksen, and Dai Fujikura, most of them previously issued and now remastered. One of the things that strongly recommends the release is that Sylvian has pulled pieces from multiple albums, not just his solo releases but those of others on which he appears (“Transit, for example, his stirring collaboration with Fennesz, comes from the latter's Venice).

The stylistic range encompassed by the album is remarkable, though that in itself shouldn't surprise given the personnel involved. Elevated by its uplifting melodic lines and Sylvian's affecting delivery, the Sakamoto collaboration “World Citizen - I Won't Be Disappointed” (from Sakamoto's Chasm) is, naturally, an album highlight, as is “Transit,” as haunting as it is elegiac. Burnt Friedman and Sylvian dig into the blues-funk of Nine Horses' “Money For All” with able support from Hayden Chisholm's clarinet and Morton Gronvad's vibes playing, and the also-bluesy “Ballad of a Deadman” (from Slope by Sylvian's brother Steve Jansen) pairs the voices of Sylvian and Joan Wasser to good effect. A rich percussive backing courtesy of Polwechsel's Martin Brandlmayr (abetted by Toshimaru Nakamura and Sachiko M) backs Sylvian's double-tracked voice as he drawls scathing lyrics in the title cut, and Sleepwalkers also includes spoken word exercises, such as “Angels” (produced by Jan Bang and Erik Honoré) where his dramatic voice intones alongside the subliminal smear of trumpeter Arve Henriksen, and a previously unreleased song, “Five Lines,” which finds Sylvian collaborating with Dai Fujikura and singing against a string quartet backing. Darker moments include “Pure Genius,” a cryptic and harder-edged collaboration with Chris Vrenna (aka Tweaker), and “Wonderful World,” where the brighter cooing of Swedish singer Stina Nordenstam offsets the tune's black jazz and Sylvian's portentous delivery.

Sleepwalkers is, then, an eclectic and richly rewarding retrospective of Sylvian's work from the past decade as opposed to a lazy cash-grab that does little more than milk the catalogue cow for a few dollars more. Anyone new to his work (as hard to believe as that might be, given that his career extends back to the early ‘80s with an initial tenure in Japan first bringing him to the public's attention) and curious about it could do a whole lot worse than start with this generous sixteen-track primer.

November 2010