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Features David Sylvian and Joan Wasser (Joan as Police Woman). With Steve Jansen’s Slope , a still tension underlies the crisp rhythms and intricate programming, while a roster of all-star singers draw out the sentiment in his songwriting. Slope follows Jansen s critically celebrated endeavour Nine Horses, with brother and long-time collaborator David Sylvian and electronica artist Burnt Friedman. As Jansen explains, With this album I approached composition attempting to avoid chord and song structures and the usual familiar building blocks. Instead I wanted to piece together unrelated sounds, music samples, rhythms and events in an attempt to deviate from my own trappings as a musician. Opener Grip lays out the challenge: skittering beats propel an instrumental with fragments of voices, resonant metal percussion and breathy snatches of saxophonist Theo Travis. The main theme is quizzical: the rhythm is insistent and affecting, a click track with a conscience. Disparate sounds attach to one another as like unpredictably finds like. Next up is Sleepyard, graced by the warm, grave vocals of Sweet Billy Pilgrim s Tim Elsenburg. Like most of the songs on Slope, the material didn t set out to support a vocalist, but Elsenburg makes himself at home, as he delivers his narcoleptic ballad. Acclaimed avant-pop singer Anja Garbarek pulls off the same trick on the mischievous Cancelled Pieces, where she teases a melody over Jansen s unorthodox rhythms. Thomas Feiner of Anywhen contributes the ballad, Sow the Salt, and both Sylvian and the remarkable Swedish chanteuse Nina Kinert perform the short, striking Playground Martyrs. Listen closely to the outro of Sylvian s version: that whispery, distant howl is as carefully-crafted as anything on the surface, and the intent behind that clicking sound like metal fingers snapping the beat is entirely up for grabs. Most unlikely of all is the bluesy Ballad of a Deadman, where Sylvian s serene tenor meets the distinctive growl of Joan Wasser (Joan as Police Woman) in front of a weary guitar and Jansen s mulish drums. Fans of Sylvian and Wasser will admire how effortlessly their voices blend together on a song that doesn t fit either s background. A rare glimpse of Americana on an austerely modern LP, Ballad of a Deadman shares one great quality with the rest of the disc: silence. Jansen s hunger for new sounds and his keen, inventive beats can cover a wide ground because every element on the record is necessary and thoroughly considered. December Train, a driving instrumental constructed entirely by Jansen, kicks off with an exhilarating blend of strings and electronic constructions. It s serious business to make music this stimulating, and to bring five years of work into such a polished, compelling package. But listen close, and you may catch him wink. Presented as ever in a beautiful digipak with design by Chris Bigg, our resident designer. Tracks : 01/ Grip 02/ Sleepyard 03/ Cancelled Pieces 04/ December Train 05/ Sow The Salt 06/ Gap Of Cloud 07/ Playground Martyrs 08/ A Way Of Disappearing 09/ Ballad Of A Deadman 10/ Conversation Over 11/ Life Moves On 12/ Playground Martyrs (Reprise)
Steve Jansen may not be a familiar name unless you have a taste for ’80s art pop and are the sort to pore over liner notes. That’s because Jansen is probably best known as David Sylvian’s brother. Sylvian was the lead singer of Japan and, since the early ’80s, has developed a reputation as a respected solo artist. Jansen has played drums and percussion on many of his brother’s releases, as well as working with other ex-members of Japan in a variety of guises. This, however, is Jansen’s first work as leader in a career spanning almost three decades.
The album steals in with fragile percussion from which rises a pensive melody. This first track, “Grip”, is skeletal, insect-like, troubled by subtle breezes. It sounds impressively contemporary, one foot planted even in the near future and by its end it has developed a febrile majesty. “Sleepyard” is dreamier still, flecked with dust motes and girded by nostalgia. It’s the first of six tracks to feature guest vocalists. This time it’s Tim Elsenburg of the redoubtable Sweet Billy Pilgrim. Later tracks offer up Anja Garbarek, brother Sylvian and Joan Wasser aka Joan As Policewoman. Thomas Feiner’s contribution is the only slight mis-step, offering up an approximation of Tom Waits’ brand of lugubrious yearning that is a little too close for comfort. The combination of songs and atmospheric instrumentals makes for an attractively varied experience.
Slope makes clear the extent of Jansen’s contributions to his brother’s work. Gently reminiscent of a Sylvian release in its sombre variety and shot through with hints of Jon Hassell’s Fourth World sophistication, Slope nevertheless has a character and art all its own. It’s an impressive work that makes this listener wonder why it has taken Jansen so long to get to this point and hope that it will encourage him to continue developing this delicate, beautiful music. —Colin Buttimer
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