Thursday's Track: David Sylvian "Small Metal Gods"

In this new semi-regular series, I write about tracks that particularly move and impress me. Take a listen and join the conversation!

On his 2003 album Blemish, one-time Japan vocalist David Sylvian collaborated with experimental musicians Derek Bailey and Christian Fennesz to create a stark, low-key accompaniment to his warm, florid vocals. His subsequent album, Manafon, released just last year, takes this approach even further, collaborating with a whole host of avant-garde musicians and improvisers to create a stripped-down, nearly bare sonic setting for Sylvian's voice. The lead-off track, "Small Metal Gods," opens with the spinning clatter of Otomo Yoshihide's record-less turntable and the hissing static of Toshimaru Nakamura's no-input mixing board, "empty" instruments that spit out abstract sheets of noise. These hesitant introductory scratches are soon joined by the spacious, reverberating notes of Burkhard Stangl's acoustic guitar and the quiet scrape of Michael Moser's cello, and then Sylvian's voice, over-ripe and thick with emotion as ever, pours into this unsettled, sizzling atmosphere. Sylvian's vocals — "it's the farthest place I've ever been/ it's a new frontier for me" are his first lines, suggesting his embrace of innovation here — are always front and center, with his collaborators filling in the niches and hollow spaces between his words. Their spare, minimalist accompaniment creates a powerful tension between foreground and background, as whenever Sylvian's voice drops out, it creates a sensation of profound absence, of negative space in which the music's scrape-and-sizzle minimalism only pricks lightly against the silence. This is music with a real sense of drama, even melodrama, akin to Scott Walker's art songs but without the bombast; Sylvian's music is resolutely dark and introspective.