Rocking my iPhone #4 – David Sylvian, Fuck Buttons, Black Sheep, Fever Ray

Right then! If you’ve only got five minutes, skip to the bottom and check out the Fever Ray video.  Otherwise…

David Sylvian, Manafon (2009): The more elderly amongst you (like me) may remember David Sylvian as leader of Japan and former “Most Beautiful Man In Pop”.  He’s still quite frighteningly elegant, according to photos in a recent feature in The Wire but now trades in an elliptical, ambient (in the sense of a music that is utterly soaked in its time and place), challenging assemblage of art songs based on sessions with the world’s free improvisatory royalty.  Christian Fennesz’s guitar and laptop is one constant factor holding together the scratches, strings and fragments of interrupted melody; the other is Sylvian’s beguiling, glowing croon of a voice, now a touch huskier than of yore but still compelling and pulling the sessions into a powerfully personal set of songs and meditations.  In fact, I’d say he’s singing better now than at any previous point in life. ‘Emily Dickenson’ wafts in on a cloud of Fennesz’s electronics.  ‘Small Metal Gods’ deploys Derek Bailey-style shards of acoustic guitar but it’s Sylvian’s voice that resonates most of all.

Fuck Buttons, Tarot Sport (2009): Last year’s Street Horrsing was a surge of forcefully orchestrated electronica, leavened with blasts of sonics that teetered on the edge of white noise.  Tarot Sport turns up the already strong melodic content and blows the dust of their glow-in-the-dark rave sticks.  ‘Rough Steez’ has as much to do with the best of Underworld but is built on a white water of churning, distorted beats and heavily tremeloed old analog riffs.  ‘Olympians’ is a fists-pumping anthem that even at nearly eleven minutes never outstays its welcome.

Black Sheep, Kiss My Sweet Apocalypse (2009).  Black Sheep is a new Julian Cope (he of Teardrop Explodes, ‘World Shut Your Mouth’ and Peggy Suicide fame) project, as concerned with the specifics of time and place as Sylvian, going so far as to announce the time, date and place of each recording at the beginning of each track. In The Wire this month (I’m thinking of subscribing – Mojo and Uncut are getting serious repetitive), Cope talked about the group (I’m summarising here) as a kind of post-apocalypse attempt from far in the future to re-construct the rock’n’roll of the late 20th/early 21st century.

The concept’s great in theory but in practice you get six long dirges built around pounded marching drums and frantically thrashed acoustic guitars.  It sounds like it was fun to play.  It isn’t particularly fun to listen to.  As a big fan of so much of his work (from the Stooges-esque metal of Citizen Cained to the luxuriously slipcased volume of the Megalithic European book), I was very, very disappointed.  It could grow on me but there’s a lot I’d rather listen to instead. Gutted, really – Cope is a bit of a role-model in how to head into your fifties disgracefully but relevantly.

This video’s a passably entertaining version of ‘Rock The Casbah’ from the Joe Strummer Memorial Busking Tour 2008.

Fever Ray, Fever Ray, (2009): Sweden’s Fever Ray is Karin Dreijer Andersson, one half of the much feted The Knife.  If it wasn’t so good, her solo project would sink under the sheer weight of gothic eclectronica cliches that have accumulated it around it like so many barnacles.  Thing is, it is dark, noirish, sparse, atmospheric, disturbing etc etc but it all works, possibly because it’s anchored in a set of great songs and performances, full of heart, warmth and soul.  Andersson uses every facet of her voice, from a treated rumble to a nerve-ending shriek, layering it over mid-Eighties drum patterns and John Carpenter synths.  It’s also very rock and roll and reminds me a lot of the odd little Sisters of Mercy incarnation, The Sisterhood, and their only single, ‘Giving Ground’.  The current release has a DVD of dark, noirish, sparse, atmospheric, disturbing etc etc videos (see fabulous examples below) and a great version of Nick Cave’s ‘Stranger Than Kindness’ as a bonus.

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About Dad Who Writes (Gabriel)

Writing, reading, listening, parenting... On Twitter as @dadwhowrites. View all posts by Dad Who Writes (Gabriel)

4 responses to “Rocking my iPhone #4 – David Sylvian, Fuck Buttons, Black Sheep, Fever Ray

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