Nine Horses ~ Snow Borne Sorrow
Nine Horses, nine songs, ride them where? On the evidence of this music, Into a sea of dismay. Snow Borne Sorrow directs sadness at its singer’s past and an anger just the right side of bitterness at the world around him. Nine Horses is a new trio of David Sylvian, his percussionist brother Steve Jansen and electronic musician Bernd Friedman. They’re joined by a remarkable number of guests including Swedish singer Stina Nordenstam, trumpeter Arve Henriksen and pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto as well as a complement of Friedman’s friends: guitarist Joseph Suchy, Hayden Chisholme on reeds and Morten Gronvad on vibes. Given such a rollcall, it’s clear that this is release lies a country mile from the bare minimalism of Sylvian’s last solo album, Blemish. Those acquainted with its remixed sisterwork will, however, recognise the lushness of these productions.
The project arrives after an unusually long gestation, with a history initiated before the recording of Blemish. Snow Borne Sorrow is a rich set of songs that belie their transatlantic, filesharing origins, indeed the project’s cohesion is remarkable. The specific details of the project bear much promise, while their delivery wrongfoots expectation and ultimately satisfies. David Sylvian is a singer with a rare presence, an artist whose emotional, artistic and spiritual journeys have been largely conducted in the public eye. The intimate proximity of his voice is an indicator of the hardwon, not always successful, struggle to communicate. Burnt Friedman’s work is far too varied to be limited by the constraints of the electronica genre. His enduring fascination has been the artist’s relationship to character, identity and masculinity. The birthing of this interest was contemporaneous with electronica’s proliferation of pseudonyms and his character exists like a shifting outline, defined by negative space rather than volume. His unexpected pairing with Sylvian proffered the possibility of a meeting of matter and anti-matter, of music stranger and even more limnal than Blemish. Indeed the singer’s notes published on the website suggest that this was the direction in which Friedman attempted to take the music, but it was one that was ultimately rejected by the singer.Instead, Snow Borne Sorrow is a rich, mordant feast. The astringency of Sylvian’s reflections are in inverse proportion to the sumptuousness of their musical settings: “God bless amnesia and the things I’ve suppressed.” “And the people fall down and abandon their dreams.” Sylvian’s presence occupies centre stage, while his co-conspirators play a supporting and relatively anonymous role, despite their songwriting and co-production credits. (In retrospect this accords with Friedman’s shapeshifting character.) It may be that the secret of the project lies in part in Steve Jansen’s presence: Snow Borne Sorrow bears a musical relationship both to Japan’s penultimate album, Gentlemen Take Polaroids and the group’s shortlived reformation, Rain Tree Crow. Whatever the secrets of its production, the detail of the sound repays – indeed welcomes – concentrated attention. Snow Borne Sorrow’s melodies snag in memory’s hooks. While Sylvian’s lyrics sometimes prove opaque, the measured tenor of his voice is an invaluable counterweight to the relentless merry-go-round of contemporary life.