Exit North – a new direction
Way back when in the 80’s Japan was one of those bands that transcended genres. Not rock, punk or progessive. Certainly not pop. But there just wasn’t a category for thoughtful, complex, internationally influenced music. Who can forget Sylvian’s collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto on Forbidden Colours?
Japan, the band are long gone, but the individual members were talented enough to all stand on their own merits and offer their own style and value. David Sylvian has been the most prolific; I won’t bore you with his long discography – you can google that if you like, but this time I’m talking about Japan’s ex-drummer, Steve Jansen.
Jansen has released a couple of albums under his own name, but this is a new collaboration with a group of internationally renowned musicians in a new band called Exit North. While everyone contributes deeply to this fine piece of music, the notable player has to be Thomas Feiner. He has the most astonishingly expressive and powerful voice that I have ever heard.
Feiner first featured on Steve Jansen’s seminal triple album Slope. His contribution on that was so powerful, his songs almost stood apart worthy of an album in themselves; even given the magnificent Playground Martyrs featuring former bandmate David Sylvian on vocals, which was a truly beautiful if dissapointingly short track.
But time to talk about this album. Book of Romance and Dust is light on musical arrangement, unlike Sylvian’s rich flowing oceanic masterpieces, this often leaves just a light-touch piano to underpin the songs, but you never feel for one second that the arrangement is too sparce as Feiner’s voice fills the space and carries the flow. Bested Bones and Sever Me take you into that almost late evening-ambiant style, then you’re suddenly shaken awake by the deeply poetic and thought provoking Passenger’s Wake which is driven by a very dynamic and percussive background, which is so strong it would overpower many singers, but on this Feiner shines and pins you back in your seat.
This is an uncompromising album in the true sense. Whenever I hear that expression, it often excuses an album that’s self-indulgent, intraverted and bad to the point of being unlistenable. This is not that at all. It demands you listen to it when you have time to really listen. The songs are so strong they could be read as poems, so beautiful is the songcraft. But even to a fan like me, it took a few days to get into. Easy listening it’s not. What it is a work of art.
Book of Romance and Dust by Exit North features:
Ulf Jansson – Piano, Keyboards
Charles Storm – Synthesisers, Treatments, Guitars, Bass, Voices
Steve Jansen – Keyboards, Drums, Percussion, Sound Design, Backing Vocals
Thomas Feiner – Lead Vocals, Trumpet, Additional Piano, Additional Guitar, Harmonium
As with Steve Jansen’s and David Sylvian’s other work, this album is available via BandCamp as a high resolution download, a CD and on 180g vinyl with beautiful artwork.