A quality combination of art rock, adult pop and downtempo
Have you ever tried to describe the music of David Sylvian? I mean have you ever tried to put it into a genre, label it, pigeonhole it, etc.? It’s tricky. And I find myself facing a similarly difficult categorisation problem when listening to this debut album by Belgian composer, singer and musician Walter Vandervelde, a.k.a. Moorlandt.
I haven’t just thrown David Sylvian’s name in here randomly because Moorlandt is very clearly influenced by the work of the mighty David Sylvian, both in terms of musical style and the vocals. Walter’s vocals are incredibly reminiscent of those of Sylvian, to the point that at times it’s almost uncanny. It’s not that he’s trying to directly copy Sylvian and there are differences in the vocals; for example, at certain points you can detect the different accent coming through, plus they’re quite a bit deeper too. But if you’re at all familiar with Sylvian you can’t help but notice the similarity. Therefore how much you’ll enjoy this album will to a large extent be dependent on what you think of Sylvain’s vocals. If you like them then you’ll probably be very happy with this album because Moorlandt’s vocals feature on all nine tracks of this album, but there’s also a bit of variety with track seven, “The Sea and Us”, which is a duet between Walter and a female vocalist referred to enigmatically as simply Tan K (who is also the rather striking model on the front cover of the CD booklet).
But it’s not simply the vocals that make me think of David Sylvian. It’s difficult to describe and compartmentalise Sylvian’s music, but you might call it art rock, ambient pop, adult alternative pop/rock, or more than likely a combination of the three. The same combination is equally apt if applied to the music on “Waiting Again”, though some tracks might also be appropriately described as downtempo, laid-back and contemplative electronic music, a genre not commonly associated with Sylvian.
But even those descriptive labels don’t really do justice to Waiting Again, an album that is much more about mood than it is musical categories. Each track produces certain textures and atmospheres – it’s certainly an album where the sound of the tracks has been carefully put together and finely tuned so that each represents a particular emotion. In this sense it can be considered a very personal album, perhaps even more so considering that this is very much a solo album – Walter composed the music for seven out of the nine tracks, wrote all the lyrics, arranged and produced most of the tracks, played all the instruments on six of the tracks, is responsible for the moody artwork on the front cover, and as I mentioned before sings on all the tracks too. He certainly convinces you that he’s a very talented individual and there’s a great selection of songs on here. Perhaps not every piece of songwriting is equally spectacular, but I did find it very difficult to pick out just five favourite tracks.
The album starts in typically moody fashion with “Private Gazing”, a delicate feast of melancholic piano and plaintive saxophone over which Walter tells of ‘anguished hearts and broken lies’. Music to slit your wrists by has rarely sounded this good!
“Yesteryears” is a much more angular piece of art rock, musically very much in the style of David Bowie, and it features some great guitar work and glitchy electronics.
“Somehow” is a much softer and more delicate piece, with rather cynical lyrics about the mundane realities of love, and it reminds me very much of “Will You” by Hazel O’Connor, both musically and in terms of the mood.
There’s more melancholic piano with the title track and it’s probably the most sparse arrangement on the album so far. The repetitive piano is the main accompaniment to Walter’s vocals and they have an almost hypnotic quality on this track.
“Sail On” features an accordion as the main instrument, which is not an instrument I hold a great deal of affection for, but Moorlandt manages to use it to great effect on a song about the sea that somehow manages to be both quite jolly and rather sinister at the same time. He’s not won me over to the accordion just yet, but it certainly does the job here.
The next track, “Lurk Upon The Angel”s Shoulder”, is perhaps my favourite. It’s a clever cross between downtempo and art rock, sounding like David Sylvian meets Portishead, plus there’s a great arrangement which makes fantastic use of all the instruments, including some very fine string samples and a great guitar solo.
“The Sea and Us”, as I mentioned before, is the only track where Walter’s vocals don’t dominate and instead they alternate with the sultry tones of Tan K. This is an interesting track and it stands out because of the different vibe that Tan K’s vocals bring, reminding me a little of the band Propaganda, plus there’s great use of saxophone too.
The album ends on a very sombre note with two tracks, “Nothing’s Left Inside” and “Ordinary Guy”. The former combines almost 20th century avant-garde classical elements (think Erik Satie) with some of the darkest lyrics on the album, whilst the latter is slightly more upbeat by comparison... perhaps bittersweet is the best way to describe this rather lovely closing number.
Overall this album is a quality combination of art rock, adult pop and downtempo that will appeal to many fans of the musicians listed in this review, but most specifically to David Sylvian fans. But it’s not just a pastiche or copy of Sylvian though, and there’s much to enjoy just for its own sake. Although the sound is somewhat familiar, the talent is still 100 percent unique.
Best tracks: “Private Gazing”, “Yesteryears”, “Somehow”, “Lurk Upon The Angel”s Shoulder”, “Ordinary Guy”.