“Darkest Birds” – Nine Horses

David Sylvian is something of a self-contained and overlooked country in the geography of rock’n’roll history. From his teenaged beginnings in the band Japan—a Roxy Music-like art-glam-rock turned synth-pop band of the ’70s and early ’80s–Sylvian went on to pursue a left-of-center artistic path through the ’80s and ’90s. There were diffuse, ambiant-like solo recordings, featuring collaborations with like-minded experimental spirits such as Robert Fripp, Bill Nelson, and Ryuichi Sakamoto; there were forays into photography and avant-garde art installations; most recently came a solo CD of disconcertingly spare and challenging songs (2003’s Blemish). In other words, he has kept busy doing all sorts of interesting things while remaining entirely obscure to the mass of music listeners here in the fad-crazy U.S. (Sylvian’s is the sort of career, come to think of it, that seems possible only in Europe, unless you’re maybe Laurie Anderson.) In the wake of Blemish‘s creative break/breakthrough comes Nine Horses, which finds Sylvian working with his brother Steve Jansen and an electronic composer/remixer with the arresting name of Burnt Friedman. On “Darkest Birds,” Sylvian’s husky, Bowie-meets-Ferry vibrato mixes luxuriously and effectively with an intimate, floaty, jazz-trumpet-accented verse and a louder, percussive chorus, both grounded in an organic-sounding wash of blippy electronica. Expect it to grow on you with repeated listens. “Darkest Birds” is the second track on the new Nine Horses CD “Snow Borne Sorrow,” released last week on Sylvian’s Samadhisound label. The MP3 is available via the sleek, artsy Samadhisound site.

“Catch a Collapsing Star” – the Mendoza Line

With a melody and spirit harkening back to the Dylanized ’60s, “Catch a Collapsing Star” is as friendly as the corner pub, as crisp as an autumn afternoon, as happy-wistful as an old letter. I think I’ve become heedlessly, foolishly in love with Shannon McArdle’s voice (first discussed when her other band, Slow Dazzle, was a TWF pick in August); her open, yearning sweetness mixes innocence and wisdom with uncanny balance. I’ll try not to resent too much that she sings lead on only one verse here, as the lead vocals are otherwise handled by (I think!) band mate Timothy Bracy. Then again, his raspy Steve Earle-ishness is really rather engaging as well, as is the nuanced mix of looseness and tightness on display throughout this rollicking tune. “Catch a Collapsing Star” will be found on the band’s next CD, Full of Light and Fire, to be released next month on Misra Records. The MP3 is available via the Misra site.

“Words That I Employ” – Coach Said Not To

So this one starts like something unhinged and way-too-quirky-indie: a tick-tocky toy-like chiming noise and a woman’s voice speak-singing an incomprehensible torrent of words. Some may immediately like this; me, I was just about ready to send the file to the Recycle Bin, but…I’m not sure. Something in the tone of the voice, something in the knowing flow of instrumentation, and then–wow, listen to the centering, glorious note singer Eva Mohn hits at 40 seconds, singing the word “sweet” (the lyric is: “Well that’s so sweet/It makes me sick/It makes me sick and happy for you”). My goodness, she’s got a real voice, and by real I don’t mean necessarily beautiful (although it is, rather) or melodious but real as in full of depth and character. Likewise the band: they may herk and jerk with the best of them, but there is great strength of purpose and execution in their sound. I love the big, faux-classic-rock break in the middle section, around 1:30; and then best of all I love the subsequent return to the “that’s so sweet” phrase–the note she sings at 2:23 melts the heart and nails the song, which now seems a satisfying, complete whole rather than a quirky parade of parts. The band name, by the way, comes, apparently, from a pamphlet the band members once saw detailing 101 ways to turn down a sexual invitation; they are number 71. “Words That I Employ” is a song off the band’s debut, self-titled EP, which was released last year. A new three-song EP is due out shortly. The MP3 is available via band’s site.




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