DAVID SYLVIAN – ” Brilliant Trees, Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities, Gone To Earth, Secrets Of The Beehive ” Album Reissues

Posted: February 24, 2019 in Classic Albums, MUSIC
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After the breakup of Japan, this reluctant star retreated into a series of four albums—including his masterpiece—built on noir balladry, instrumental abstraction, and an abiding sense of distance. The first four solo albums, newly reissued on vinyl, exude an intense but ambiguous loneliness. “I wrestle with an outlook on life that shifts between darkness and shadowy light,” he sings during his most forthright song, “Orpheus.” Throughout these records, he does battle—with his outlook, with his past, with his expectations. As a singer, he seems to avert eye contact, his peculiar baritone formal and serious, classically beautiful but wary of sounding that way. As an arranger, accompanied by masters of ambiance like Ryuichi Sakamoto and Robert Fripp.

Before going solo, Sylvian found himself, like Scott Walker and Brian Wilson, playing the uncomfortable role of young pop icon. Commercially successful and critically loathed, Japan were a New Romantic group in which the inventive fretless bassist Mick Karn often outshone Sylvian, the dashing frontman. Japan formed while its members were classmates in South London, and their trajectory reflects the swiftly evolving taste of precocious teenagers. When they started in 1974, they sounded like the New York Dolls. As they rose to prominence, they sounded like Roxy Music. Eventually, they discovered the avant-garde.

That last touchstone was no phase; it has defined Sylvian’s career ever since. The sound that Sylvian explored as a solo artist—eerie, atmospheric, solitary—came into focus on Japan’s fifth and final album, 1981’s Tin Drum, and its sparse highlight, “Ghosts.” Where Sylvian’s best hooks had once come from pairing oblique phrases to new wave rhythms, he somehow found power now within the two syllables of the word “wilder,” melding them together with swelling vibrato. In a TV performance just before Japan broke up, he strips the song down to just acoustic guitar and voice, leaving long gaps of silence between each verse. “This whole year has been, like, drifting apart,” he tells the interviewer about Japan’s imminent dissolution.

Post-Japan, he began collaborating with Sakamoto on singles like “Forbidden Colours” his lyrical accompaniment to Sakamoto’s exquisite theme for Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. By the time Sylvian released his solo debut Brilliant Trees in 1984, his group of musicians included Sakamoto, members of Can and Pentangle, and atmospheric trumpeters Jon Hassell and Mark Isham. The album remains his most immediate work, featuring some of his most memorable melodies (“Red Guitar,” “The Ink in the Well”) and daring explorations like the nearly nine-minute title track. It’s a remarkable opening statement, indicative of the singular world Sylvian was able to establish, even when surrounded by such rich talent.

Sylvian brilliant trees

David Sylvian’s debut solo album from 1984 is now available for the first time on 180 Gram vinyl. Featuring the singles Red Guitar, The Ink in The Well and Pulling Punches, the album is now housed in a gatefold sleeve with a printed inner bag and comes with a download card. David is joined on his debut album by a stellar cast including Holger Czukay, Jon Hassell, Kenny Wheeler, Mark Isham, Phil Palmer, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Danny Thompson.

“Brilliant Trees” (Sylvian, Hassell)

Sylvian alchemy

The entirely instrumental “Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities”, a strange hodgepodge of collaborations and soundtrack material. Still believing Sylvian’s appearance and cult of personality to be his biggest selling point, a video company asked him to participate in a documentary; Sylvian responded with an abstract collage filmed in Tokyo, soundtracked by new ambient compositions included here. The record is vivid and atmospheric (particularly Side B, the longform piece “Steel Cathedrals”), but it’s more like a blueprint for the collaborative work to come. This new edition—its first complete release on vinyl—makes this reissue series more comprehensive, but it remains an album more interesting in concept than practice.

David Sylvian’s intermediary album, made up of two entirely separate projects from 1985, is now available for the first time on 180 Gram vinyl. Featuring brand new artwork, the album includes rare photographs by Yuka Fujii, design by Chris Bigg, and a download card. David is joined on Alchemy by Holger Czukay, Robert Fripp, Jon Hassell, Steve Jansen, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Kenny Wheeler.

The cult classic 1991 album featuring David Sylvian, Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri, and Mick Karn. Also features contributions from Bill Nelson, Phil Palmer, and Michael Brook. The majority of the material on this album was written as a result of group improvisations. There were no pre-rehearsals; the improvisation took place in the recording studio and much of the finished work contains original elements of those initial performances.

Sylvian gone to earth

“Gone to Earth” is more essential. which featured one record of atmospheric vocal tracks and a second record consisting of ambient instrumentals. The album contained significant contributions from noted guitarists Bill Nelson (formerly of Be-Bop Deluxe) and Robert Fripp (of King Crimson), and a rhythm section comprising Steve Jansen of Japan on drums and Ian Maidman of Penguin Cafe Orchestra on bass

Split into an LP of traditional compositions and an instrumental companion, its scope summarizes where Sylvian had been and foreshadows his next moves. “That album was put together piecemeal,” he later reflected. “I ended up with this… incohesive collection of material that I somehow had to make sense of.” It’s a marvel how coherent it feels. Some songs border on noir balladry, like the gorgeous “Silver Moon,” while others are almost gothic, including “Taking the Veil” and “Before the Bullfight” You can sense Sylvian peeling away the dramatic flourishes that made Brilliant Trees so bold. The ambient side, featuring guitar contributions from Fripp and Bill Nelson, offers shadows where once there were songs.

This was David Sylvian’s second solo album proper, a 2LP set from 1986, is now available for the first time on 180 Gram vinyl. Featuring the singles Silver Moon and Taking The Veil, the 2LP set is housed in a gatefold sleeve with brand new artwork, including rare photographs by Yuka Fujii, design by Chris Bigg, and printed inner bags plus a download card. David is joined on his second solo album by Robert Fripp, Bill Nelson, Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor, Phil Palmer, B.J. Cole, Mel Collins, Steve Jansen, and Steve Nye.

Sylvian secrets of the beehive

If Gone to Earth felt like a labored portrait of the artist, then its follow-up was made on instinct. Released just a year later, Sylvian’s masterpiece, “Secrets of the Beehive”, arrived quickly. “Each track was written in one sitting,” he has noted. Sakamoto’s string arrangements appear mostly just to vanish, and Sylvian sings uncharacteristically from behind acoustic guitar or a piano. He is a kind of live vanishing act, a singer/songwriter dissolving into fog. “September” suggests a jazz standard until it’s abruptly snuffed out in less than two minutes. “The Boy With a Gun” and “The Devil’s Own” take on varied evils but resolve without a hint of redemption. Conceptually heavy but structurally light, Secrets of the Beehive seems to forecast a storm that lingers in the distance.

The album’s quick creation involved abandoning pieces that had once seemed central to the work as a whole, and it does feel like a statement with the core scooped out. This only adds to its mysterious pull. During the brightest moment, “Let the Happiness In,” Sylvian sings over lapping percussion and a brass section that mimics foghorns. Through the dusk, Sylvian prays for the “agony to stop” as the arrangement opens into something that sounds like peace. “As a listener,” he has said, “I prefer to be taken through the stages of doubt before being shown the way out.” Few albums suspend you so completely.

All of this, of course, can seem a bit bleak. This intensity subsequently pushed Sylvian to seek spiritual guidance and shake things up creatively. Following the release of Secrets of the Beehive and his first-ever solo tour, he focused more on collaborative work, from a pair of ambient albums with Holger Czukay and two excellent releases with Fripp to music with artists like Fennesz decades later.

David Sylvian’s third solo album from 1987 is now available for the first time on 180 Gram vinyl. Including the singles Orpheus and Let The Happiness In, the album features new artwork based on Nigel Grierson’s original photographs, redesigned by Chris Bigg, housed in a Gatefold sleeve with a printed inner bag and download card. David is joined on his 3rd solo album by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Mark Isham, Steve Jansen, Danny Thompson, and David Torn.

These four records, then, mark a distinct phase of his career—likely the last time his work would be received by a mass audience, establishing a path toward the reclusive future he dreamed of.

In Martin Power’s biography of “Sylvian, The Last Romantic”, early manager Simon Napier-Bell recalls the young artist confiding, “I want to be a minor rock star.” It’s a humble, self-deprecating remark that rings true so many years later: His music remains a glowing source of solitude, all driven by a desire to be hidden but sought after—a celebration of all things lost and unnamed.

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