May 4, 2002
The Scent of Magnolia
Jean The Birdman
Boy With The Gun
Rooms of Sixteen Shimmers
Cover Me With Flowers
Zero Landmine/Forbidden Colours
Review from Philadelphia City Paper, 2 May 2002
DAVID SYLVIAN – The Secrets of His Beehive by A.D. Amorosi
David Sylvian enters a new age.
Since his days with Japan (the late-’70s to early-’80s new romanticists turned fretless ambient glam alchemists), David Sylvian’s music has come shockingly alive with abstract expressionist prose conveying loss and love without wallow or wane.
“There was a very simple attempt to write of experiences that relate to the interior life, a mixture of the emotional, psychological, spiritual and possibly the archetypal,” writes Sylvian in an e-mail, from his current home in the foothills of the New England forests, about the genesis of his solo career.
“I wanted, then, to be as truthful about my own experience as a member of this human race — the doubt, optimism, pessimism, the constant re-evaluations and questioning, the negative attributes and the positive — whilst at the same time speaking of the longings, yearnings for what I’d describe as an ultimate truth. Divine truth.”
Nothing much has changed for or with Sylvian in that respect, except that life has blessed him with the repeated experience of divine love. Alluding (perhaps) to his recently discovered Buddhist nature, the happiness of marriage and children, and his first ever tour of the United States (though he moved to this country from England ten years ago), he writes: “All this has made the journey clearer and better defined.”
The cream of pop’s avant garde — Bill Frisell, Nicola Alesini, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Robert Fripp, Holgar Czukay — appeared on Sylvian’s earliest Eurocentric solo works, Gone to Earth, Secrets of the Beehive and The First Day. These records showed as much discord as they did drive-by romanticism and a desire for the spiritual awakening he seems to have located — an awakening that allowed his narrative deconstructionist nature to bend with his sun-dappled and ethereal music without losing the weight of experiment. Still, Sylvian is not comfortable, per se. “I think ‘psychic well-being’ might be overstating the case. … There are always disruptions, eruptions, corruptions…. ‘Discomfort’ is closer to the truth; because as you walk along this path you see clearly the depths of your delusions, being forced to face issues that are anything but comforting. I am supported by family, teachings, guru’s grace, work. Put it this way, I couldn’t make it alone.”
But his life — what with having married collaborator Ingrid Chavez, now acting on the experimental nature of his music with exhibits of his prodigious photographic/ video/film work — has led him to his present introspection and retrospection, a wryly titled compilation of vocal moments, Everything and Nothing (Virgin), and a brand-new compilation of rarely heard instrumentals, Camphor (EMI), that are surprisingly cohesive and dynamic.
“The title Camphor makes reference to the properties that that particular substance has. It is used in religious rituals, an offering of the light/flame. It too has healing properties. I see an analogy here with the goals of my own music and the arts in general.” Sylvian’s sound, especially as found on Everything’s newest moments, has become wildly rough-hewn and impressionistic, a dusky contrast to the Baudelairian electro-neo-fusion of his earlier works. This curious edginess is due to his homemade studio and its production qualities. It is also part of a emancipatory process, a “glorifying in the liberation of being contract-free and all that means psychologically.
“I’ve been under contract my entire adult life,” writes Sylvian, who signed with Japan to Virgin back in the ’80s. “I’m enjoying the positive aspects of that reality — yes, I pinch myself every so often — an important end of one phase and beginning of another.” And for his first-ever genuine tour? “There’s absolutely no commercial reason to be out there right now, but as far as I’m concerned it makes an odd sort of logic to be doing it regardless.” That Sylvian takes on 20 years of most-holy music with such abandon, is, in itself, a miracle. That audiences can witness his constant mothlike transference live should prove to be a like a beehive bursting with sweet, unpure honey, equal doses grace and graininess.
Review by Paul van Rijn:
You have to understand that I have been a fan of Japan since when they started out, after which I have been following the musical careerpaths of all the individual members. I have never had the opportunity to see DS live for the 20 or so years I have been listening to his music. So this was a real treat! The concert definityly lived up to the expectation I had, given that DS is such a perfectionalist . The band was great, and I have to say that Tim Young and Matt Cooper were especially great. The playlist covered all stages of his career and I liked how they did these wonderful different versions of Ghost, Nightporter and Forbidden colors. DS appeared to be very relaxed and enjoying himself, even smiling at times. I definitly had a great time. The TLA is not very big but the place was filled up and the crowd was very appreciative. The encores were Nightporter and Red Guitar.