A Victim Of Stars reviews

This page contains a compilation of reviews as found online, in papers and magazines about the David Sylvian compilation A Victim Of Stars.

Latest:
– Dusted Reviews (June 5, 2012)
– ioPages (dutch, April 2012)
– Blog Critics (April 13, 2012)
– The York Press (April 6, 2012)
– Cutting Edge (March 6, 2012 DUTCH)
– The Cornishman & West Briton paper (March 1, 2012)
– Yorkshire Evening Post (March 1, 2012)

Dusted Reviews (June 5 2012)

David – Sylvian A Victim of Stars 1982-2012

by Jon Dale

It begins with a song we’ve all heard before: Japan’s “Ghosts,” from 1981’s Tin Drum, the point at which English singer, songwriter and conceptualist David Sylvian discovered there was more to the life of song than programming, drum-pads and Peroxide. If Japan started as England’s answer to New York Dolls, they ended up as one of their home country’s most perplexing propositions, a Romantic art-pop group both fastidious and mysterious, drifting between the exotic, the erotic and the quixotic, with Sylvian their beating heart, the “most beautiful man in pop,” and from all accounts, one of the most privately alienated and anguished — at least, at the time. The pressures of pop can construct a weird, unforgiving fortress for the heart, and “Ghosts” is the sound of one man beating down the drawbridge.

Or not, for this particular ghost was partially re-recorded in 2000, for a previous retrospective, Everything And Nothing. It’s no surprise Sylvian’s tinkers with his past, given his discomfort with looking back: it’s also no surprise to learn Sylvian had next to nothing to do with A Victim Of Stars, a brilliant if slightly lop-sided compilation of hymns for quietly imperiled souls. Lop-sided because it’s all about the songs, and Sylvian’s other career in ambience and improvisation is largely neglected. But if it does nothing else, A Victim Of Stars reinscribes the artist’s name in the alter-canon of great British visionaries, fit to sit alongside figures like Mark Hollis, Robert Wyatt, Roy Harper, and adopted son Scott Walker.

It took him a while to get there. Early collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto, like “Bamboo Houses” and “Bamboo Music,” or the gorgeous if overplayed “Forbidden Colours,” set his voice in too-rigid confines, something he continues to suffer from through his first two albums, Brilliant Trees (1984) and Gone To Earth (1986). In the acrid funk of “Pulling Punches” and sylvan swoon of “The Ink In The Well,” you can sense a voice striving to make its way out of its shell; tellingly, the best moments on Gone To Earth are the instrumentals, but instead we get serviceable singles “Taking The Veil” and “Silver Moon.” The experiments on these two albums happen under the radar, under cover, from Holger Czukay’s sidereal tape disturbances on “Weathered Wall” through to the driftworks of Earth-bound pieces like “Sunlight Seen Through Towering Trees.” None of them are here.

Sylvian has recounted his disappointment with 1987’s Secrets of the Beehive, but this gorgeous, self-contained song suite is the foundation on which his subsequent career is built. Quiet and resigned, “Orpheus” is the kind of liquid folk that John Martyn aimed for (and achieved) on Solid Air; “Let The Happiness In” is possibly Sylvian’s most moving song, pivoting on two chords and singing out to the end of “agony” and the beginnings of new life. (It finds an echo, six years later, in the Fennesz-arranged “A Fire In The Forest,” which similarly takes one simple melody and two chords and creates reflective joy.) Singing to Orpheus and Eurydice, Sylvian here is working Greek mythology and cloaked revelation into a liquid and peregrine song cycle.

At which point, silence, more-or-less, on the solo album front, for 12 years. During the down time, Sylvian collaborated with Sakamoto, the ex-members of Japan (as Rain Tree Crow) and Robert Fripp: all appear on A Victim Of Stars. They’re nice enough, but the real revelation here is “I Surrender” and other songs from 1999’s Dead Bees on a Cake, a productive dalliance with soul and R&B, with Sylvian’s typically becalmed approach to songwriting the lingua franca that connects this most American of song forms with the rest of A Victim Of Stars’ Continental countenance. Also impressive about these songs is their ability to tell of metaphysical and spiritual transformation without sounding glib or pat, the lyrics reaching to the heart of the matter yet somehow avoiding cliché. If anything, the peculiar tone of Sylvian’s voice — deceptively smooth on first gloss, yet consisting of a rich graininess, crumbling at its edges like a Madeleine — gifts flight to these lyrics with its amber glow, letting their plain-speaking allegory ring out.

By 2009’s Manafon, sadly only represented here by “Snow White In Appalachia,” Sylvian has untethered the music from the blind flood of structure, calling on heavy names from the world of electro-acoustic improvisation, such as Christian Fennesz, Polwechsel’s Werner Dafeldecker and Michael Moser, AMM’s John Tilbury, and Keith Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura, to radically de-center his melodies. Here, as on the songs from its predecessor, 2003’s Blemish, where he worked with Fennesz and improv heavyweight Derek Bailey, Sylvian responds quickly to the recordings the musicians offer, melody determined as much by the skeins and wefts of thrum, crackle and glitch that his supporting cast thread around him, as by any internal or pre-determined logic. The “variations” on Manafon songs collected here, from 2011’s Died In The Wool, only attest to the peculiar genius of their original host album, bringing “Small Metal Gods” in from the downpour, now under the shelter of an arch, yet starchily beautiful string arrangement from Dai Fujikura.

Thirty years into his solo career, Sylvian is still an odd and unpredictable character. He’s engaged with some of the great musicians of our time — Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Eddie Prévost, Keith Rowe — and somehow been granted Papal dispensation to negotiate, as if freed from Earthly concerns, the politics and personalities that bind and separate his cast of players. But listen through A Victim Of Stars in one sitting, take in its 150-minute breadth, and the overarching sense you’re left with at the end of the set is that of a continued unveiling, layers lifted, armor removed, hearts pierced and exposed over time. Throughout, Sylvian’s songs retain their peculiar emotional coloration, of tension bubbling just under the surface, such that his description of “A Fire In The Forest,” calling it a “lullaby for neurotics,” does well to describe most of the 31 songs here, in some
way. Sleep well, paranoiacs.

 

iO pages (dutch progressive rock magazine. published April, 2012)

David Sylvian A Victim of Stars 1982-2012

by René Yedema

Zoals je uit de titel al kunt opmaken, is A Victim Of Stars 1982-2012 een verzamel-cd. Gezien de nadruk op Sylvians solowerk en zijn platen met Ryuichi Sakamoto, Rain Tree Crow, Japan en Nine Horses, is deze collectie een actualisering van Everything And Nothing (E&N) uit 2000, waarmee het tien songtitels gemeen heeft. Vergeleken met Sleepwalkers, de compilatieplaat uit 2010 die meer was toegespitst op recente samenwerkingen, is Nine Horses’ Wonderful World de enige doublure. In tegenstelling tot de schijnbaar lukrake volgorde van E&N is de nieuwe dubbelaar chronologisch gerangschikt. Het voordeel hiervan is dat we Sylvians ontwikkeling mooi kunnen volgen. Via de ingenieuze synthipop van Ghosts − in de remixversie van E&N − het tweeluik Bamboo Houses/Bamboo Music, verstilde ballades als Forbidden Colours van Secrets Of The Beehive − dus niet de versie van Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence − de met funk en onderkoelde jazz verrijkte atmosferische popwave van albums als Briljant Trees en Gone To Earth en de Japan-reïncarnatie Rain Tree Crow, wordt langzaam toegewerkt naar het moeilijker te doorgronden werk van de laatste tien jaar. Vanaf track vijf van de tweede schijf weerklinken meer abstracte nummers van Blemish, Manafon en Died In The Wool, tactisch onderbroken door songmatige stukken van Nine Horses. Afgesloten wordt met de enige nieuwe compositie Where’s Your Gravity? die Sylvian uitvoert met musici waarmee hij de laatste tijd vaker optrekt, zoals de uit de Noorse nu-jazz scene bekende Jan Bang, Eivind Aarset, Erik Honoré en Arve Henriksen. A Victim Of Stars is een zorgvuldig samengestelde dwarsdoorsnee van de carrière van deze mysterieuze artiest, die ook voor hen die al veel van hem hebben iets te bieden heeft, zoals het moeilijk verkrijgbare Bamboo Music. Toch zal er vraag blijven naar een verzameling van meer obscuur werk, zoals zijn bijdragen aan platen van Andrea Chimenti, Eye Talk, Virginia Astley, Hector Zazou en Russell Mills.

 

Blog Critics (blogcritics.org) (April 13, 2012)

David Sylvian A Victim of Stars 1982-2012

by Greg Barbrick

David Sylvian first came to prominence as leader of the group Japan. Their early work was often lumped together with that of fellow Brits such as David Bowie, T. Rex, and Roxy Music. In a word, glam. By the time of their 1978 debut Adolescent Sex, Japan had developed a look and sound all their own. I discovered them in 1980, with the Gentlemen Take Polaroids album. Many of us felt that Japan had a lot in common with the Midge Ure-led version of Ultravox at the time, although I am pretty certain the group themselves hated the comparison.

Gentlemen Take Polaroids was Japan’s first album on Virgin Records, where Sylvian remained until the recent formation of his own Samadhisound label. He left Japan for a solo career in 1982, and the new A Victim of Stars: 1982-2012 compiles tracks from the past 30 years. The process of distilling three decades of music into a 31-track, double CD collection must have been a difficult one. A Victim of Stars is presented (almost) chronologically, and displays a continuous and admirable process of growth over the years.

For whatever reason, the set opens with a remix of “Ghosts,” which initially appeared on the Everything And Nothing album from 2000. What follows are three tracks he recorded with Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Bamboo Houses,” “Bamboo Music,” and his first international hit, “Forbidden Colours.” The two worked wonders together, and it is little surprise that “Forbidden Colours” became so popular.

From this point on the songs appear in chronological order, with one exception. What is striking is how strong both the music, and the voice of David Sylvian remain throughout. Besides the three Sakamoto tracks previously mentioned, the first disc contains eight more tunes hailing from the 1980s.

If there is one minor quibble, it would be with the dated synth sounds. But what are you going to do? At the time, Sylvian was definitely cutting-edge, and that is what the cutting-edge sounded like. Even the ’80s albums of someone considered as “authentic” as Bruce Springsteen suffer from this situation. To be honest, this is an aspect I kind of enjoy anyway. There is a certain retro, even campy fun in hearing those tinkly synthesizers.

Disc one concludes with another Sylvian/Sakamoto collaboration, this one from Ryuichi’s 1992 Heartbeat album. The full title of the song is “Heartbeat (Tainai Kaiki III),” with words by David Sylvian and music by Sakamoto and the great Arto Lindsay. The brilliant guitarist Bill Frisell also appears. As always when it comes to the music of Ryuichi Sakamoto, the atmospherics are all enveloping. This could just be wishful thinking on my part, but “Heartbeat” even seems to nod in the general direction of P.M. Dawn at times.

The second CD begins with a track from 1993, “Jean The Birdman.” This again shows the high level of musicians who chose to work with Sylvian, in this case it is Robert Fripp, from the album they recorded together titled The First Day. While Sylvian’s voice has always been its own instrument, certain influences and comparisons are unavoidable. With his earlier material, I was reminded of Bowie at times. On disc two of A Victim of Stars it is Bryan Ferry who I sometimes think of.

David’s voice has deepened, which completely suits his music. If his ’80s work proved that serious artistic statements could be made within the fashionable MTV-friendly confines of synth-pop, his music of the past 10 years or so represents a very graceful maturation. This is no back-handed compliment. It is my fervent belief that Sylvian has written some of his finest material in his later years. For me, the finest track of all came from his 1999 album Dead Bees On A Cake, and the 9:25 of “I Surrender.” It is an amazing piece of music, from what I consider to be his very best album.

The remainder of the collection spans the years 2003-2012. David Sylvian’s music over these years is some of the most interesting of his entire career. Right up there with Dead Bees On A Cake is Blemish (from 2003). Blemish is certainly his most personal recording, as “A Fire In The Forest,” “The Only Daughter,” and “Late Night Shopping” certainly attest.

While Sylvian collaborated with various musicians often over the years since leaving Japan, he finally took the plunge and worked in a full band context again in 2005 with Nine Horses. They are represented here with three outstanding cuts, “Wonderful World,” “The Banality of Evil,” and “Darkest Birds.”

The final song on A Victim of Stars is the newly recorded “Where’s Your Gravity?” It is a wonderfully evocative piece, and allows the richness of Sylvian’s voice the opportunity to fully engulf the listener to an understated and gorgeously atmospheric background. This is a perfect song to close the collection with.

A Victim of Stars: 1982-2012 is about as good a compilation as I have ever come across. David Sylvian’s music has always inspired a very deep connection with his fans. Virgin has done a tremendous job in the packaging also, with a gatefold sleeve that somehow captures the mysterious charisma of the artist. I cannot think of a better way for the uninitiated to get to know him. It also works quite well for those of us who may have lost touch with him from time to time over the years. Well done, all the way around.

The York Press (April 6, 2012)

David Sylvian A Victim of Stars 1982-2012 (Virgin)

by Matt Clark

AS a teenager, David Sylvian’s heroes were Bowie and Roxy Music. Five years later he was a hero himself; the darling of the new romantics and singer with Japan.

But the Bowie/Ferry influence was to take Sylvian into far deeper realms than his fellow romantics and nowhere more so than during his solo career, which this compilation explores. CD1 deals with the more mainstream Japanesque material, but CD2 shows how eclectic Sylvian was to become.

Sadly, only one track (Jean the Birdman) from his excellent collaboration with Robert Fripp, but three from his most avant-garde album Blemish and another three from Snow Borne Sorrow standout; Wonderful World and The Banality Of Evil in particular. To close, Small Metal Gods and Snow White in Appalachia from the free jazz and rather disturbing Manafon illustrate how, unlike his heroes, Sylvian eschewed commercial success in favour of artistic experimentation.

Disillusionment and despondency may be his hallmark, but delivered so exquisitely, Sylvian turns them into things of great beauty.

 

Cutting Edge (March 6, 2012)

David Sylvian A Victim of Stars: Kroniek van een vergane jeugd

by Peter Wullen

5 stars

David Sylvian was ooit een blonde popgod. Anders dan vele van zijn muzikale tijdgenoten bewandelde hij geen geëffende paden. Hij volgde een geraffineerd en eigenzinnig traject, dat hem ver voorbij de mainstream bracht. De voorbije drie decennia leken voor hem eerder op een kronkelend bergpad. Sylvian dook even op in het oog van het publiek en verdween alweer. Aan dit hide and seek spelletje lijkt definitief een einde gekomen. De aangekondigde ‘Implausible beauty’ wereldtournee werd onverhoeds afgeblazen wegens gezondheidsproblemen. Wat eerst uitstel was, werd algauw afstel. Het tekent de eigenwijze crooner dat hij zoiets doet. De voorbije tien jaar slaagde hij erin alle verwachtingen van zijn overigens erg trouwe fans naast zich neer te leggen.

Het album ‘Manafon’ uit 2009 was nochtans een ongeëvenaard meesterwerk. Sylvian raakte op die plaat voorgoed los van zijn new romantic roots. Geen spoor van romantiek meer. Wel een korzelige en gebroken achtergrond van experimentele artiesten als Fennesz, Burkhard Stangl, Werner Dafeldecker, Michael Moser en vele, vele anderen. De nadruk lag dit keer op de stem van Sylvian, die helemaal naar voor gemixt werd en de harde, poëtische teksten. Op ‘Died in the wool’ deed hij net het omgekeerde. De spaarse soundtracks van ‘Manafon’ werden overgoten met een strijkersarrangement van Dai Fujikura. Sylvian begreep misschien dat hij even te ver gegaan was. De fans schreeuwden algauw opnieuw om de goede, oude popgod Sylvian.

Tussen de twee albums door verscheen het niet te versmaden compilatiealbum ‘Sleepwalkers’, een verzameling nummers die hij samen met een keur van bevriende artiesten schreef, onder meer Joan As Policewoman, Steve Jansen, Burnt Friedman en Ryuichi Sakamoto. En nu is er dus de dubbelaar ‘Victim of stars’, een terugkeer naar Virgin Records voor een compilatiealbum met de beste nummers van zijn soloalbums van de afgelopen dertig jaar. Wat ons betreft is dit een overbodig overzicht. We kennen alle nummers bijna van buiten. We vinden het ook jammer dat de credit sheet zo bondig is. We vonden nauwelijks vermeldingen van bijdragen van de artiesten die Sylvian de afgelopen decennia groots maakten. Ook het artwork kon ons niet onverdeeld gelukkig maken. We zien een peinzende, jonge Sylvian met blonde haardos aan de rand van een hooggebergte. Een kleinere foto van een oudere Sylvian met stoppelbaard op de inlegkaart. Slechts een nieuw nummer: ‘Where’s your gravity?’ met Jan Bang en Eivind Aarset, dat opgedragen werd aan Kristamas Klousch, het wolfmeisje dat voor de hoes van ‘Sleepwalkers’ poseerde. Wat de toekomst zal brengen voor David Sylvian weten we niet. Hijzelf waarschijnlijk nog veel minder.

 

The Cornishman & West Briton paper (March 1, 2012)

David Sylvian A Victim of Stars 1982-2012 (Virgin)

by Lee Trewhela

The def
initive compilation of the man who turned his back on being a pop tart and became one of the most esoteric artists of the past 30 years. In that time Sylvian has taken acoustic sounds, jazz, ambient and, yes, pop into unchartered territory to dazzling effect, topped with that mellifluous croon. This 2CD collection runs from his work with Sakamoto and Fripp to Japan’s glorious rebirth as Rain Tree Crow and his Nine Horses collaboration through solo highs such as last year’s willfully experimental Died In The Wool. Essential.

Yorkshire Evening Post (March 1, 2012)

Album review: David Sylvian

Having walked away from fame himself at the age of 24, perhaps David Sylvian could offer the Ting Tings advice on how to sustain a musical career outside the full glare of publicity.

Since leaving synth-pop group Japan at their zenith in 1982, the singer has devoted himself to working with a range of interesting musicians from rock, jazz, pop and electronica’s outer-reaches – people such as Robert Fripp, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Holger Czukay and Evan Parker. His 2003 album Blemish – with the avant garde guitarist Derek Bailey – practically abandoned melody in favour of sparse experimentation. But it’s the exception; for the most part this two-disc compilation is full of distinctive tunes, atmospherically arranged. Sylvian’s grainy, mannered vocal may not be to everyone’s taste; songs such as Forbidden Colours, Silver Moon and Blackwater, however, demand to be heard.

 

Subba Cultcha (Februari 28, 2012)

David Sylvian A Victim of Stars: 1982-2012

by Mandy Williams

8 out of 10

In a throwaway world a welcome antidote is David Sylvian whose impressive 38 year career has seen him eschew trivial concerns and follow his own sophisticated path. For devotees of the artist this double CD compilation ‘A Victim of Stars, 1982-2012,’ to be released by EMI on leap day cannot come a moment too soon; neither can his much mooted European tour. This is the second compilation from the ex-Japan front man. 2010’s ‘Sleepwalkers,’ focussed mainly on his more recent collaborative work with musicians such as Sakamoto, Jansen, Nine Horses and Tweaker. Here we are presented with 30 tracks from the past 30 years and you would be hard pressed not to find something to love here. Through the decades he dips into funk, jazz and electronica; the album concludes with a new song ‘Where’s Your Gravity?’

For the Japan fan CD1 starts with the wonderful remixed classic ‘Ghosts,’ arguably the band’s finest hour. What a marvellous introduction! ‘When the room is quiet, the daylight almost gone – It seems there’s something I should know.’ Sylvian’s distinctive vibrato croon enquires over synthesised beeps and spooky echoes. Next up is the graceful double-sided single ‘Bamboo Music/Bamboo Houses.’ This warms us up for his piece de resistance ‘Forbidden Colours,’ from the Japanese POW film ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence.’ To this day this remains amongst my favourite pieces of music and the album is worth purchasing for this alone. His partnership with ex Yellow Magic Orchestra musician Ryuichi Sakamoto bears no greater fruit than here. The lyrics: ‘The blood of Christ or the beat of my heart,’ are delivered over an intense changeable piano line and heartbreaking strings. 1984’s ‘Brilliant Trees,’ yields the lilting simplicity of Red Guitar and the jazz inflection of ‘The Ink in the Well’ which contrast with the funkier bass piece, ‘Pulling Punches.’ While from 1987’s Secrets of the Beehive comes tracks such as ‘Let the Happiness in’ and ‘Orpheus ‘ which is generally considered to be Sylvian’s masterpiece from that period.

On CD2: we begin with the fresh dance floor ready track ‘Jean the Birdman’ and wend our way through the nineties and noughties . ‘Alphabet Angel,’ comes from his 1999 comeback ‘Dead Bees on a Cake. From ‘Blemish,’ we hear ‘The Only Daughter ‘ While on ‘Wonderful,’ David shares vocal duties with Stina Nordenstam. ‘The Banality of Evil’, sees him collaborate again with Japan’s Steve Jansen. It is only by 2009’s ‘Manafon,’ named for a small village in Wales and the poet R. S Thomas that I begin to depart form the pack. Free form instrumentation and chamber music combine in a work that lacks musical structure. On ‘Small Metal Gods,’ the singer’s commanding voice dominates proceedings. I’ve placed the Gods in a zip locked bag, I’ve put them in a drawer. They’ve refused my prayers for the umpteenth time, so I’m evening up the score,’ he declares commandingly. The album’s title track provides the penultimate avant-garde intensity.

Early on Sylvian stood out as a sensitive, enigmatic figure but this catalogue of work showcases how much he has evolved as an artist. His mysterious pieces become ever more experimental. Abundant orchestral arrangements and incisive narratives contrast with his major involvement with ambient sound. At any point during the 155 minutes he can make you either gulp with his emotive voice or perhaps wince over his stark, challenging pieces. Sylvian has always pushed the envelope and collaborated with the most interesting contemporary musicians. In this way he can perhaps be seen as the Scott Walker of his generation. He calmly rages against the tide but then provides peace and beauty for those who attend. At difference times in his career he has moved from the ‘quiet life,’ ‘to a new frontier.’

 

Uncut (Februari 28, 2012)

David Sylvian A Victim of Stars: 1982-2012

by Michael Bonner

8 out of 10

A visionary musician, revealed under the make-up…

When David Sylvian first became a presence on the pop scene on the cusp of the ’80s, it was obvious that, like many of that decade’s performers, he was hugely influenced, to the point of being besotted, by Roxy Music. Not only did he and his fellow travellers in the band Japan brandish the outlandish and flamboyant fashions of glam-rock, but Sylvian’s voice was clearly modelled on Bryan Ferry’s tremulous croon.

The combination of that erogenous baritone and his pop-star looks seemed to point inevitably to a mainstream pop position alongside the Duran Durans and Culture Clubs when, in 1982, Japan found themselves with a bona fide hit single in the shape of the winsome “Ghosts”, from the previous year’s Tin Drum album. But it speaks volumes about Sylvian’s ambitions that by then he had already effectively turned his back on “pop” music, breaking up the band to pursue more exploratory musical directions. Ironically, while his singing style was sometimes characterised as an affected copy of Ferry’s already affected lounge-lizard style, in time the aesthetic balance between the two would shift the other way, as Sylvian found far better uses for the louche croon than Ferry’s endless repetitions of a static position.

Musically, too, he became far more adventurous than both Roxy Music and the New Romantic legions who echoed the original glam-rock innovations, his work paralleling that of questing artists like Scott Walker and Talk Talk. Across a series of artful solo albums, Sylvian delved ever deeper into the worlds of jazz, avant-garde and improvised music, ultimately reaching the point where, with 2009’s Manafon, he would be constructing songs completely from improvised recording sessions involving the likes of saxophonist Evan Parker, guitarist Keith Rowe, pianist John Tilbury and laptop schemer Christian Fennesz, albeit somehow managing to impose a sense of “song-ness” on the pieces simply by dint of his vocal tracks. It’s as if he’s constantly striven to find out how little structure is necessary for there to still be a song, as such – a journey that has taken him to a position where his music has become an almost elemental presence.

The track which opens this two-and-a-half-hour anthology of Sylvian’s work cleverly embodies the course that his career has followed. It’s a version – either a remix or re-recording – of Japan’s hit “Ghosts” made for his 2000 compilation Everything & Nothing, on which the presence of apparently random blips and smudges of sound overlaid upon the song creates a link to the most recent pieces from Manafon, as if it were always intended to be heard this way.

It’s followed by a couple of singles – “Forbidden Colours”, the haunting theme from the film Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, and the double A-side “Bamboo Houses”/”Bamboo Music” – made with Ryuichi Sakamoto, who would become a frequent collaborator over the ensuing decades. Their Oriental tone, gamelan percussion, wooden and metallic synth textures, and the latter’s innovative bouncy electro beats that would prove influential on subsequent generations of hip-hop producers, now sound more or less commonplace, an indication of how culture adapts and absorbs the new and unusual. Other important collaborators have included Robert Fripp, whose Frippertronic guitar glows at the heart of “Silver Moon” alongside BJ Cole’s pedal steel; and synthesist/producer Burnt Friedman, with whom Sylvian and his brother, drummer and longtime accomplice Steve Jansen, formed the group Nine Horses, a sort of avant-rock lounge-music ensemble.

Sylvian’s own first solo single was “Red Guitar”, a slice of jazz-funk lite blending oozing fretless bass, skittish drums and cool piano within a dipping groove. Perhaps helped by the success of “Ghosts”, it reached the UK Top 20, which enabled Sylvian to pull off the remarkable feat of getting his 1984 full-length solo debut Brilliant Trees, an album featuring musicians such as Mark Isham, Jon Hassell, Kenny Wheeler and Holger Czukay, into the Top 5. The latter’s strangulated French horn fills are still a wonder to behold.

Secrets Of The Beehive (1987), found Sylvian further entrenched in chamber-jazz terrain, with the brooding horn colouration and lowering strings of tracks like “Let The Happiness In”, “Waterfront” and “Orpheus” reflecting what was clearly a brooding, introspective personal character. But despite his introvert tendencies, Sylvian still managed to dominate 1991’s Japan reunion as Rain Tree Crow, on which Bill Nelson’s glistening sheets of guitar seemed more decisive musical contributions to tracks like “Blackwater” than those of the singer’s former bandmates. The reunion was short-lived. A couple of years later, he collaborated again with Robert Fripp on The First Day, from which comes “Jean The Birdman”, a fable of aspiration whose line “Ambition is a bloody game” seemed to sum up Sylvian’s disillusion with the music industry in general.

He would release no new studio album for the next six years, a period of inactivity eventually broken by the release in 1999 of Dead Bees On A Cake. It was a further refinement of his increasingly austere chamber-jazz aesthetic: in “Darkest Dreaming”, wisps of steel guitar and electric piano ebb and flow in quiet ripples, while Djivan Gasparyan’s duduk flute settles like the dust on a moth’s wing. But in the nine-minute-long “I Surrender”, he somehow managed to blend Kenny Wheeler’s flugelhorn, Lawrence Feldman’s flute and Mark Ribot’s subtle curlicues of wah-wah guitar into a compelling ambience of erotic languour, the perfect habitat for a vocal that seemed to open up an abyss of yearning.

By 2009’s Manafon, the music has all but eroded away to just a few hints and flecks of sound on tracks like “Snow White In Appalachia” and “Manafon” itself, whose lyric speaks of rustic isolation and deep-rooted reproach. Tinted with austere streaks of strings and gentle swells of noise, these tracks offer spooky envelopments for Sylvian’s vocals, which somehow impose the sense of recurrent structure that the music seems to deny. It’s a fascinating exercise in the kind of minimalism that doesn’t involve repetition, but rather erosion – an intriguing position to reach, especially for a musician who started out looking like a cosmetics model. As the years have passed, the made-up face has been worn away to reveal a truly interesting, uncategorisable artistic countenance.
Andy Gill

 

Pichfork (Februari 28, 2012)

David Sylvian A Victim of Stars: 1982-2012

by Nick Neyland

8.2 out of 10

David Sylvian’s voice bears such a calmly forceful cadence, full of carefully enunciated words that trail off into a pristine nasal murmur, that he can dart between genres and surface with music positioned resolutely in his own sound world. The former Japan singer has spent a great deal of time reflecting on his solo output in recent times. In 2010 he released a retrospective of his non-album collaborative work, Sleepwalkers. If that record was a treat for fans, A Victim of Stars feels like a crack opening in the door for anyone left behind, a way to get a feel for Sylvian’s far-reaching mood swings since Japan disbanded in 1982. It’s neatly ordered, beginning with a hint of the early trappings of his solo career via a version of his former band’s “Ghosts”; taking in a smattering of material from his full-length albums; and closing with a new song bearing a title that summarizes the divisive areas of exploration that break-up his career arc: “Where’s Your Gravity?”

Sylvian’s voice is a unique beast, pitched somewhere between the type of feigned disinterest typical of all the Ferry and Bowie acolytes the New Romantic movement produced, but with greater cracks and world weariness appearing with age. By the time A Victim of Stars lands on “Small Metal Gods” from 2009’s excellent Manafon, there’s a buckle and strain to his singing, a distinct warble in his throat, a palpable swoop down toward earthier terrain. But it’s still grounded in the unreal, demonstrating Sylvian’s preference for keeping his audience at arm’s length. If there’s one element of style that remains in place on this compilation, it’s the tendency to untether his voice, to leave it floating in space, while the instrumentation– sometimes fussy, sometimes so minimal it’s barely a whisper– politely searches for space around it, as though the singer is performing an awkward first dance with his own work.

Dialing back from “Small Metal Gods” to the material from 1984’s Brilliant Trees is like taking a leap from someone at peace with their place on the planet to someone still figuring out who they are. But even the shift from “Pulling Punches” to “The Ink in the Well” (the first two tracks from Trees) is substantial, with the former all 1980s lipstick traces and watery slap bass, while the latter is sunk in a bed of acoustic thrumming and gently brushed drums. Both are perfect ease-in access points to Sylvian’s solo work and among the best-known material here. But a better early warning of what was to come is “Forbidden Colours”, Sylvian’s 1983 collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto. It’s a fully formed piece of orchestral pop, with Sylvian taking on the mantle of wraithlike torch singer– the vantage point from which he’s clearly most comfortable as a performer.

One of Sylvian’s biggest detours from that mode of operation was Secrets of the Beehive (1987), a largely acoustic-driven work represented by a clutch of songs here. On “Waterfront” from that album it’s easy to detect the Scott Walker influence that continually reemerges in his career, while “Let the Happiness In” is the kind of low-key, jazz-inflected ballad that would fit easily into Mark Hollis’ solitary solo album. Fellow outliers such as Walker and Hollis are the kind of company Sylvian has comfortably kept throughout his solo work, and, like them, he has often deviated tangentially in pursuit of untried provinces; Secrets of the Beehive was followed by two protracted instrumental collaborations with members of Can, Plight & Premonition (with Holger Czukay) and Flux and Mutability (again with Czukay, along with Jaki Liebezeit, Marcus Stockhausen, and Michael Karoli).

It would have been difficult to bring in such work on A Victim of Stars, on account of the sheer length of the material in those collaborations. As such, it’s important to note this is only a small part of Sylvian’s story, a few splintered factions that hint at fuller, more expansive stories told elsewhere on his full-length recordings. But as a handhold into those tales this works surprisingly well, occasionally even dipping into the uninhibited environments Sylvian likes to extend to, such as the subdued funk of the nine-and-a-half-minute opener to 1999’s Dead Bees on a Cake, “I Surrender”. It also highlights his immaculate taste in collaborators, with earlier work alongside Sakamoto and Robert Fripp complemented by Blemish-era compositions marked by the spooked-out electronics of Christian Fennesz and Derek Bailey’s guitar passages. The ghostlike curls of feedback on “Late Night Shopping” from that record are the perfect place to drop Sylvian’s voice, where his tenderly accented tones lightly vacillate between calm and disquiet.

Sylvian’s partnership with Fennesz now stretches over a number of recordings, with both clearly sharing an appreciation for abstraction in art. It’s an impulse that loops back to the earliest song present here, “Ghosts”, which fleetingly lapses into glitch-heavy electronics at crucial junctures in its evolution. It’s not easy to string a single narrative from A Victim of Stars– Sylvian’s career is in a permanent state of flux and reinvention. But he works best when his songwriting is pulled away from the concrete, when there’s open-endedness for him to spin his focus around. But nothing here is ever wholly drawn into that world. Sylvian’s role often feels like that of a curator, tugging in elements of free improvisation but never letting it overshadow, lest his absorption with songcraft, opulent orchestration, ambient electronics, and dozens of other impulses suffer. A Victim of Stars doesn’t offer much to anyone already immersed in that world. For everyone else this is an engaging scratch at the surface of a wide-open mind.

 

My Opera (Februari 7, 2012)

Music ‘Til The Lights Go Down

by Andrew Lockwood

5 out of 5 stars

In a musical career spanning 38 years, David Sylvian, has become somewhat of a byword for quality, a touchstone of consistency and an ever present ambassador for subtlety and sophistication. Having gone quietly about his business over the course of the last 5 decades he has amassed a stunning back catalogue that stands both as a true testament to such an accomplished artist but also one that clearly shows the depth and beauty of his compositions.

A Victim Of Stars is David’s second compilation in as many years, the previous one, 2010’s ‘Sleepwalkers’, focused purely on his collaborative work. This time around we are treated to a two disc celebration of his 30 year solo career. At 155 minutes long you are definitely not short changed. However, what is striking when you start to analyse the track listing is just how much brilliant material has had to be forsaken. Not being picked for the final draft, not making the cut or being passed over is akin to a Galactico being left on the subs bench for Real Madrid (Although I’m not s
ure Mr Sylvian would appreciate a football analogy, he doesn’t strike me as the type!) Some formidable songs being rested that could easily make a subsequent playlist include ‘Nostalgia’, ‘The Boy With The Gun’ and ‘Words With The Shaman’ (Or anything from Alchemy at all) to name but a few.

The quandary as to what to select from such a vast treasure trove of riches must have been a delightfully difficult decision. The final 31 tracks are without exception each superb as a singular entity but when heard together in their entirety as a body of work they are nothing short of phenomenal. David’s marvellous song writing, perfectly balanced arrangements and idiosyncratic, individual performances makes each of the tracks a formidable one. Combining his clever use of instrumentation and mixing up his reference points has been a mainstay of his diverse musical exploration but the thread that ties it all together is his woefully under appreciated soulful voice.Can a white boy sing soul? The short answer is yes, and then some. What David Sylvian also manages to do, to great effect, is get some Jazzier inflections in there too. With seemingly consummate ease he can give a tenderness and fragility to each tune and then deliver enough emotion and feeling into each track to blow you away every time. If anyone should be receiving BRITS for services to the music industry or Life Time Achievement Awards then the powers that be should look no further.

The highlights are many and plentiful throughout this stunning collection. It all starts with a remix (Don’t worry it’s a sympathetic treatment not a complete overhaul) of the classic Japan track ‘Ghosts’ and ends with the only new, previously unreleased, composition on the double album ‘Where’s Your Gravity’. In between you are just left bereft of superlatives to lavish on the plethora of aural ecstasy. From the chilling first notes of the sensitive and sensational ‘Forbidden Colours’ to the slap bass laden, powerful, almost funky, ‘Pulling Punches’, through to the smouldering agonies of the painfully beautiful ‘Let The Happiness In’ this 1982-2012 retrospective has it all. ‘Orpheus’ is still as captivating as ever, the horns bleed through punctuating and accenting with such effective precision. ‘Pop Song’ still sounds as fresh and creative and ‘Jean The Birdman’, amongst others, reminds us that Mr Sylvian is not all about deep contemplative soul searching melancholy.

Only one song is included here from his last compilation but it would have been a travesty to have omitted it. ‘Wonderful World’ is just one of the best ways to spend six minutes of your life. With David sharing vocals duties with the angelic Stina Nordenstam it means that there is even more complexity and texture to enjoy and be enthralled by. Taken from his ‘Snow Borne Sorrow’ album with Nine Horses it is a rich mesmerising mix of magnificent artistry. ‘The Banality Of Evil’, from the same album, also shows how good the Sylvian/Jansen writing partnership can be. ‘Manafon’ ,his last new solo album from 2009, is the oppressive and intense penultimate track. When heard here it almost acts to bookend the 30 years as if it were the Matter to the Anti-Matter of Ghosts. Both songs share a similarity that is not as easy to isolate with any of the other tracks on this album. ‘Where’s Your Gravity?’ acts as the curtain call to a jaw droppingly good set that defies comparison.

As a pioneer of Ambient sound and as a genuinely gifted song writer David Sylvian has been nothing short of inspirational throughout his long and distinguished career, solo or otherwise. A Victim Of Stars 1982-2012 shows just how far reaching David Sylvian’s undeniable influence can be traced. There is not one bad song on here. There is not one good song on here, all are without question…..at least fantastic and at best, breathtaking. If you only ever buy one more album you could do a lot worse than to make it this one.

 

musicOMH (Februari 27, 2012)

David Sylvian – A Victim Of Stars 1981-2011

by Daniel Paton

5 out of 5 stars

Although David Sylvian is not exactly an under-compiled artist, this almost comprehensive retrospective still provides welcome respite from 2012’s familiar first quarter of PR buzz and endless awards ceremonies. It also offers a timely reminder that British music has long managed to produce brilliant, artful eccentrics, often against all odds. Sylvian belongs in a select group alongside artists such as Mark Hollis and Scott Walker (the latter somewhat adopted, but we should be delighted to claim him) in having made an extraordinary journey from pop star to uncompromising individual.

Like those other two masters, Sylvian’s development was hardly a major volte-face but rather more of a gradual, patient evolution born from restless experimentation. Sylvian remains to this day the kind of artist for whom there is always something more to learn, as interested in process and method as he is in the results. The seeds for this transition were certainly planted whilst Sylvian reluctantly enjoyed his status as ‘the most beautiful man in music’ whilst fronting Japan. Japan were a pop band, but they were a remarkably artful one, their music often taking unexpected twists and turns and always luxuriating in the possibilities of sound and texture. Ghosts, a remix of which kicks off proceedings here, may well be the strangest single ever to grace the UK top 5. Its carefully crafted minimalism and stark vocal still sound surprising now.

After Japan disbanded, Sylvian’s first work seemed to refine their unique brand of angular, mutated funk. Rhythm remained a primary component in his collaborations with Ryuichi Sakomoto on the Bamboo Houses/Bamboo Music single (both sides of which are included here) and his debut solo album included Pulling Punches and Red Guitar, two tracks elegant, sleek and lurching in equal measure. They could have sat comfortably on Japan’s Gentlemen Take Polaroids album.

A Victim Of Stars makes clear the extent to which Sylvian has thrived on collaboration. There is one track (Blackwater, with its keening slide guitar and fascinating brushed drums) from 1990’s Rain Tree Crow project, essentially a Japan reunion in all but name. There’s also a welcome selection from his somewhat underrated 1993 collaboration with Robert Fripp. Then there’s the legions of guest performers, many drawn from the realms of jazz or progressive rock. In addition to the aforementioned Fripp, in his initial run of solo projects, Sylvian worked with some of the very finest improvising musicians – not least guitarist Bill Frisell, legendary trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, Mark Isham and David Torn. Sylvian must, of course, had quite enticing musical qualities of his own to gather such an extraordinary roll call. Many must have been drawn by his focus on sound, dynamics, texture and interaction, qualities too often ignored by musicians working in mainstream spaces.

This compilation may primarily be valuable for illustrating the full length and breadth of Sylvian’s musical progression. It is the first compilation to draw together his Virgin work with his more recent improvisation proje
cts (2009’s bleak and haunting Manafon found him working with legends such as Evan Parker, Eddie Prevost and Keith Rowe). The two discs incorporate moments of swooning beauty (Let The Happiness In), lush, sensual extended narratives dressed in deceptively conventional musical clothes (Orpheus, one of his most popular songs) and darker moments of inspired spontaneity (Small Metal Gods).

It’s arguable that, by inevitable omission, A Victim Of Stars might make the distance between the wiry funk of Pulling Punches and the near-formless songs from Blemish and Manafon seem greater that it in fact is. Constant qualities can be found by those willing to listen closely. Sylvian’s voice has always been a prominent feature – somehow both understated and expressive – and used more as an instrument than simply a vehicle for the song. Manafon took this notion to its logical conclusion, Sylvian imposing his own improvised delivery on to pre-recorded improvisations recorded with his collaborators. Also consistent is Sylvian’s preoccupation with texture, mood and deconstruction – his songs have rarely adhered rigidly to verse-chorus-verse conventions.

Still, with time constraints probably preventing the inclusion of any of Sylvian’s long form work with Holger Czukay and with the selections from 1986’s wonderful Gone To Earth entirely eschewing its instrumental half, it’s harder to reconcile some of the challenges of Sylvian’s mature period with the earlier song choices. Perhaps the welcome inclusion of some material from the outstanding Nine Horses project (with Sylvian again working with Steve Jansen), particularly the sophisticated but chilling Banality Of Evil, may help join some of the dots.

After everything, any compilation which includes the classic Forbidden Colours (Sylvian and Sakamoto’s instantly recognisable theme from Nagisa Oshima’s film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence) alongside the brilliant, menacing The Only Daughter (from Blemish) is still a challenging but exciting prospect. The combination of Sylvian’s approach to vocal delivery with his interest in the sonic effects of specific instrumentation and production techniques mean that his music has always had emotional qualities without ever resorting to familiar emotional manipulation or cliche. In some glorious alternate universe, he is collecting Outstanding Contributions to British Music awards. In the real world, the honours will no doubt continue to elude him.

 

Boomkat (Februari 27, 2012)

David Sylvian: A Victim Of Stars

David Sylvian requires little introduction to anyone with even a passing interest in modern music. Over an influential career spanning 38 years he’s marked himself as a resolute renaissance man of British pop music and the avant garde, from his earliest recordings with Japan to records with everyone from Ryuichi Sakamoto to Derek Bailey and Fennesz. He’s a genuine one-of-a-kind, blessed with a sincere voice which can break a man’s heart and a musical scope which seemingly knows no boundaries. ‘A Victim Of Stars’ collects 31 standout moments from a catalogue spanning 16 albums and countless collaborations, ranging from his best known material such as ‘Ghosts’, and ‘Bamboo Houses’ with Ryuichi Sakamoto, thru to a brand new and exclusive recording ‘Where’s Your Gravity’. Absolutely splendid stuff. Recommended.

 

Mirror (Februari 24, 2012)

David Sylvian: A Victim Of Stars

by Gavin Martin

4 out of 5 stars

(includes a pictures credited to David Sullivan (sic)

Music’s capacity to allow endless reinvention is nowhere more evident than in the post-Japan career of the man formerly known as David Alan Batt. Increasingly spiritual and delicate, and coaxed into being by an array of mighty musical minds, this two-disc set is a richly rewarding journey across 20 years of solo Sylvian. Still shining bright.

 

The Line Of Best Fit (Februari 24, 2012)

David Sylvian – A Victim of Stars, 1982 – 2012

by Robert Barry

David Sylvian, the plasterer’s son from Lewisham who became the “world’s most lovely man” (according to The Sun), has followed a most improbable career trajectory since the break up of his group, Japan, in 1981, at the height of their success. For thirty years, Sylvian has singularly failed to melt down and embarrass himself in the high baroque style of so many of his peers from the world of (almost) chart-topping ’80s synth pop. In fact, the only thing he seems to be embarrassed about is the fact that he was once in an (almost) chart-topping ’80s synth pop band. Instead, he has spent his time collaborating with a roll call of avant-gardists – amongst them Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Ryuichi Sakamoto, Can’s Holger Czukay, AMM’s Keith Rowe and John Tilbury, and no-input noise improvisers Otomo Yoshihide and Toshimaru Nakimura, to name but a few – and producing some of the most beguiling music of the era.

This is far from the first Sylvian collection, so Japan tracks like ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Every Colour You Are’ (the latter from the 1991 “comeback” album released under the name Rain Tree Crow) as well as the Ryuichi Sakamoto collaboration ‘Heartbeat (Tanai Kalki II)’ have already been co-opted into the Sylvian canon, and practically everything else has already been re-mastered at some point. For the man born David Allen Batt who u
sed to turn up to Catford Boys School in full make-up, aged 14, repackaging evidently comes as second nature. The ostensible purpose of the new release, then, might be to fill in the gaps for a new generation who came to ‘Ghosts’ via Rufige Kru and King Midas Sound and caught on to the recent solo stuff thanks to the presence of Fennesz or Burnt Friedman.

A Victim of Stars presents a somewhat cleansed collection – no extensive ambient workouts or half-hour pieces for art installations here – and as a result the 1990s seem to fly by, with the decade’s middle years represented by just one song (‘Jean the Birdman’) from 1993′s Robert Fripp collaboration, The First Day. Aside from that, the song-based records are fairly evenly recognised with two or three tracks apiece from the jazzy funk-pop of Brilliant Trees, the soulful, spacious Gone to Earth, and the rich, expansive Secrets of the Beehive (with orchestrations by Scott Walker collaborator Brian Gascoigne) filling up most of the first disc. Disc two is dominated by noughties work with Fennesz, Derek Bailey and AMM, along with tracks from the two Nine Horses albums made with Burnt Friedman and former Japan drummer (and Sylvian’s kid brother) Steve Jansen, along with Swedish chanteuse Stina Nordenstam and Supersilent trumpeter Arve Henriksen.

The one new track here, ‘Where’s Your Gravity?’, pits a floating, flickering ambient soundscape of tremulous bursts of strings, swollen synth lines and distant dub echoes against a bruised torch song vocal with lyrics like “Self-annihilation/Couldn’t come too soon”. A haunting, weightless driftwork of a song that would sound equally at home on a Kompakt Pop Ambient compilation or the soundtrack to David Lynch’s Lost Highway; following on from the peerless creativity of Blemish and Manofon, ‘Where’s Your Gravity?’ proves Sylvian remains one of the most innovative British artists working in song today.

 

Virgin Music (Februari 20, 2012)

David Sylvian: A Victim Of Stars

by Ismail Mulla

In a Saturday night freak show culture, bank rolled by a narcissist who likes to play god over the hopes of would-be, wannabes and never-weres, all in the name of entertainment, longevity is something that isn’t of importance, cynics would argue talent isn’t important either.

But step into a DeLorean to pre Stock Aitken Waterman 80s brand of pop and feast on David Sylvian’s brilliance as he hits 88 miles per hour over a span of three decades outlasting SAW and still going strong under the radar, in the face of Syco dominance. When someone like Sylvian says that they’re launching a compilation album, you expect them to break with convention and opt for the most obscure of selections and ordering.

But ‘Victim of Stars’ doesn’t do this; opting for a chronological order it instead lunges straight in with both feet, with a remix of Japan’s hit ‘Ghosts’ taken from their 1981 album ‘Tin Drum’. The remix manages to squeeze out an extra layer of atmosphere from a track that was already full of oxygen.

The compilation continues in a similar vein as the next two tracks are ‘Bamboo Houses’ and ‘Bamboo Music’ featuring frequent collaborator Ryuichi Sakamoto, followed by the still powerful ‘Forbidden Colours’.

Victim of Stars shows just how artful David Sylvian is and has been over three decades. A man not content with just crunching out hits on the synthesiser as was the norm when he was at the peak of his popularity. Instead layering smoky jazz inflections on the lucid synthetic styles to end up with an ambient avant-garde sound, Sylvian has managed to keep his artistic integrity whilst staying relevant, no mean feat over three decades.

This greatest hits compilation also has a nice little surprise in the shape of previously unreleased track ‘Where’s Your Gravity?’ It’s a slow burning, brooding number featuring Sylvian’s now huskier voice, but still retains that mystique thanks to the dark, lurking ambience. Once again illustrates Sylvian’s knack of delivering a nuanced electro sound.

Close your eyes as Sylvian’s back catalogue takes you on a smoky, ambiguous, neo noir filled journey. A Victim of Stars is a must have not only for any Japan, David Sylvian fan or 80’s avant-garde pop fan but anyone who appreciates a craftsmen who takes pride in not only his work but also in the tools that help him carry out said work.

 

BBC Music (Februari 23rd, 2012)

A timely reminder that the mainstream’s been able to accommodate many kinds of magic.

by Iain Moffatt

Scott Walker and Mike Patton aside, was there ever a Top of the Pops regular as thrillingly un-pop as David Sylvian? Even the fact he ended up there seems almost accidental; after all, when Japan emerged at the height of punk, they were all high art and preposterous glamour – a kind of Proxy Music, if you will, with the erstwhile Mr Batt as their Ferry-cum-Bowie – and if New Romantic hadn’t happened they’d’ve been little more than a cultish footnote.

Not, mind you, that that would’ve stopped Sylvian ploughing the furrow spotlit by this retrospective, since him claiming to be captain commerciality would’ve been spurious at best. Take the opener here, Japan’s ostensible swansong and zenith Ghosts: even in the eclectic landscape of 1982, its melancholic miasma, arcane synthalia and otherly distress calls made it a striking top five hit, while heard again here it might as well be from another universe to anything that’s passed for pop in years. Indeed, as CD one here illustrates magnificently, he’d enjoy continued popular success with numerous aloof, oblique records that skipped unsettlingly between several overlapping melodies, the lachrymosely filmic Forbidden Colours being the most celebrated, with the puzzling Red Guitar remaining a standout.

In fact, it was only when he actually did start borrowing from the zeitgeist, all none-more-80s sax and Pino Palladino-style basslines, that he began to suffer, leading to the genuinely futurist and liberatingly atonal Pop Song, after which cavalierness sets thoroughly in, as dramatically showcased on the second disc, where we get toes dipped in improv waters, the deliciously unwieldy glory of The Banality of Evil, the 10-years-early invention of James Blake (hello, A Fire in the Forest!) and his adieu to top 40 life I Surrender, w
hich is a nine-minute slice of Sade-ian sophisti-pop with separate flute and trumpet solos taken from the album Dead Bees on a Cake. It would be, wouldn’t it?

Yes, it’s a ridiculous, sometimes patchy affair, but that feels entirely apposite. After all, this is Exhibits A through Z and beyond in the case for Sylvian as practically the male Kate Bush, and, amid the rampant self-satisfaction evidenced by the BRIT Awards, it’s a timely reminder that, at its best, the mainstream’s been able to accommodate many kinds of magic.

 

Eclectopia blog (Februari 22nd, 2012)

David Sylvian: Old & New Boundaries

by Jim Lange

“It’s the farthest place I’ve ever been
It’s a new frontier for me
And you balance things
Like you wouldn’t believe
When you should just let things be”

~David Sylvian Small Metal Gods

In 1987, I was visiting a friend in Baltimore and we were just hanging about one slow afternoon. I had put on Tom Wait’s live album-not really daytime listening. Maybe my friend was in a different mood or perhaps he was irritated with my musical choice and in response, he chose to play David Sylvian’s Secrets of the Beehive.

It literally stopped me in my tracks.

Sylvian’s plaintive voice with delicate jazz-classical instrumentation was an anomaly in the 80’s world of stadium rock overkill. That album still stands as a landmark masterpiece in my opinion.

Sylvian, being a true artist, continues to explore and expand the boundaries in his search for self-expression. Albums like Blemish, Snow Borne Sorrow and Manafon reflect this searching spirit. He doesn’t seem at all interested in a commercial market, but rather he remains true to his muse.

The new compilation holds no new cuts, save one, for true fans, but this is an excellent introduction for the neophyte to this thoughtful and profound artist.

 

God is in the TV (Februari 20th, 2012)

David Sylvian ‘A Victim Of Stars: 1982 – 2012’ (Virgin/EMI)

4.5 stars out of 5

by Dominic Valvona

Like the younger sibling to his distinguished artistic brothers, David Sylvian donned the hand-me-down vestures passed down to him from the creative triumvirate of David Bowie, Scott Walker and Bryan Ferry. A voice trembling with the imbued influence of this reverent trio, Sylvain’s own distinctive plaintive pleas sailed between those pioneering crooners blueprint tones, before relaxing into its own emotively slick dilatoriness style. Over the last thirty years these vocals have fluctuated and pliably bent to fit various musical verandas, and experimental excursions; with varying degrees of success, both critically and, occasionally, commercially – though never at the expense of innovation.

Still, perhaps, better known for his days at the helm of orient sthenic Japan, his own endeavours surreptitiously blended into the general morbid, and heroically, melancholic background. Prolonged, indolent, and highly visceral, his solo work ventured beyond the confines of Japan’s awkward angular romanticism and broody synth-noir, to tap into high-class jazz, esoteric orchestral expressionism, and funk.

Just like Bowie, Sylvian’s music was always enhanced by the class of collaborator he attracted: luminaries of the avant-garde, Robert Fripp and Holger Czukay, alongside the noted Yellow Magic Orchestra, and, film composer, Ryuichi Sakamoto, all lent considerable weight in one way or another.

Lavished with a 2-disc appraisal, Sylvian’s introspective, soliloquy woes are collated together in a, selective, chronological order; stretching back to 1982 with the ethereal interregnum ‘Ghosts’ – originally taken from Japan’s 1981 LP, Tin Drum; remixed and chosen as a shoehorn into his solo odyssey. In purposeful sets, this compilation travails through the lions-share of his back catalogue; grouping together album-tracks and singles in digestible segments. Beginning with the rich filmic partnership of songs, composed with Sakamoto; we’re presented with Sylvian’s most influential series of escapist traversing hymns to the land of ‘Bamboo Houses’, and, ‘Bamboo Music’: Japan. The Bowie links continue with the elegantly sweeping fraught paean, ‘Forbidden Colours’; the theme tune to the thin-white-duke starring WWII prisoner-of-war movie, Merry Christmas Mr.Lawrence – Sakamoto and Sylvian at the height of their emotive powers.

Moving on, a trio of equally moving laments represents the eponymous 1984 solo LP, Brilliant Trees. ‘Red Guitar’ – probably amongst my favourites – uses a similar sound palette to Bowie’s own far-east inspired romantic flirtations, and sounds like a far deeper and meaningful moody piece of pop-funk then the usual stock of 80s schlock. With Can’s enigmatic genius Holger Czukay, Sakamoto (his most durable partnership) and trumpeter Jon Hassell on hand to perform various sublime backing duties, Brilliant Trees absorbed the 80s heralding brass stabs sound with a evocative free-roaming smoking-lounge jazz.

His third solo effort, Gone To Earth (1986), moved towards a more sophisticated synthesis of Leonard Cohen and Walker mid-life bluesy jazz: ‘Taking The Veil‘ smoulders with pinning Walker-esque aloofness, whereas Silver Moon re-works Fantastic Voyage as a real smooth tearjerker for dreamers.

From the picturesque sullen seascapes and oceanic themed LP, Secrets Of The Beehive (1987), we find Sylvian poetically looking out to sea with the beautifully pitched and low-brass “sulking-on-the-dock-of-the-bay” Let The Happiness In; and, literally, borrowing Walker as a vessel for the brooding poignant weeping piano-led, Waterfront.

Part one of this magnum opus collection finishes with songs plucked from the reformed Japan – in everything but actual name – project, Rain Tree Crow. As the 90s sunk-in, Sylvian was drawn back to his roots; working with his comrades for an updated punt at their signature coddling synth maladies. Taken from that 1991 album, are the classy, early adopted, trip-hop and C
octeau Twins enhanced, Backwater, and twanged mystical-country drifting ode, Every Colour You Are.

Disc two carries on the good work starting with the 1993 Robert Fripp album-project, The First Day. The pleasantly strummed indolent tango ‘Jean The Birdman‘ is the sole representative highlight, yet breaks-up the languorous momentum with its warm sparkly tones, and jerky progressive rhythms.

Leaping forward to the opposite end of the decade, Sylvian’s Dead Bees On A Cake album supplies the next few tracks. Absorbing the semi-industrial soundscapes and sadness of post-OK Computer Radiohead with some sighing break beat soul, and dose of Massive Attack, the songs Alphabet Angel, I Surrender and Darkest Dreaming sound resigned; caught in a cycle of observational indictments, saved by the metaphysical grace of love.

In 2003 Sylvian brought out the heavily abstract, and stripped back Blemish; which included the haunting and disturbing undertone themed The Only Daughter, and warping electronica hypnotic, slow-march, Late Night Shopping. He also began working with his brother Steve Jansen and electronic artist Burnt Friedman on the Nine Horses collaboration. Producing, so far, two LPs under the moniker, it’s the initial Snow Borne Sorrow that bares the fruit, endorsed with the swooning kettle drum swing of Wonderful World – a Bonobo world-jazz fusion duet with the coquettish Stina Nordenstam (one of many guests appearances) that returns Sylvian to the Cohen/Walker template.

As the second disc counts-down to its logical conclusion, we reach Sylvian’s last solo effort, Manofan. Drawing together an ensemble of leading improvisers (Evan Parker, Keith Rowe, Fennesz, Sachiko M, Otomo Yoshihide and John Tilbury) he once again embarks on a terse ambient exiguous pathway; using a minimalist backing of The Drift redolent sobering sound effects, vapours and random piano probes. With the diegesis, aleatory beauty of Snow White In Appalachia, and the harrowing stringed earthy Small Metal Gods, Sylvian is at his most dejected; observing the emptiness and negative effects of the digital revolution – a period which has yet to fully develop, but is causing a similar aftershock to that of the industrial revolution.

One of the main problems with Sylvian is that his various liaisons and adoptions of current technology, at any given time in his career, have dated certain songs. However, the more recent material shies away from this reliance; instead returning to a soundtrack of percussion, strings and man-made textured vistas.

Of course, this compilation isn’t just an overview tributary, or cash-cow exercise for the label. No, Sylvian’s upcoming return to the recorded musical landscape – after a 3-year hiatus – is trumpeted with the last number, ‘Where’s Your Gravity?’ A vocally swooned cross between K D Lang, Rufus Wainwright and a disturbed Neil Diamond, this brand new single is a poignant, drugged-waltz through the wretched life of some unfortunate used-up waif – morbidly engaging enough to show promise. Unfortunately for Sylvian, the tied-in retrospective tour seems to have stalled, as the crooner is suffering from an unspecified back complaint – I share your pain; laid-up myself for the last two-weeks with a slipped back pain, sent from the very burning coals of hell itself. For now all dates, as far as I’m aware (check the website) are on hold.

Though the thought of spending 3 hours with David Sylvian sounds like a challenge – it’s most definitely not – the shear scale and scope of his material varies enough to pull you in for the long haul; quenching the senses.

A Victim Of Stars showcases one of the UK’s most under-rated, yet innovative, talents; a voice that is very much needed in the present climate. Here’s to forty years of re-invention.

 

contactmusic.com (Februari 2012)

Review of David Sylvian’s album A Victim Of Stars 1982-2012

by Andrew Lockwood

In a musical career spanning 38 years, David Sylvian, has become somewhat of a byword for quality, a touchstone of consistency and an ever present ambassador for subtlety and sophistication. Having gone quietly about his business over the course of the last 5 decades he has amassed a stunning back catalogue that stands both as a true testament to such an accomplished artist but also one that clearly shows the depth and beauty of his compositions.

A Victim Of Stars is David’s second compilation in as many years, the previous one, 2010’s ‘Sleepwalkers’, focused purely on his collaborative work. This time around we are treated to a two disc celebration of his 30 year solo career. At 155 minutes long you are definitely not short changed. However, what is striking when you start to analyse the track listing is just how much brilliant material has had to be forsaken. Not being picked for the final draft, not making the cut or being passed over is akin to a Galactico being left on the subs bench for Real Madrid (Although I’m not sure Mr Sylvian would appreciate a football analogy, he doesn’t strike me as the type!) Some formidable songs being rested that could easily make a subsequent playlist include ‘Nostalgia’, ‘The Boy With The Gun’ and ‘Words With The Shaman’ (Or anything from Alchemy at all) to name but a few.

The quandary as to what to select from such a vast treasure trove of riches must have been a delightfully difficult decision. The final 31 tracks are without exception each superb as a singular entity but when heard together in their entirety as a body of work they are nothing short of phenomenal. David’s marvellous song writing, perfectly balanced arrangements and idiosyncratic, individual performances makes each of the tracks a formidable one. Combining his clever use of instrumentation and mixing up his reference points has been a mainstay of his diverse musical exploration but the thread that ties it all together is his woefully underappreciated soulful voice. Can a white boy sing soul? The short answer is yes, and then some. What David Sylvian also manages to do, to great effect, is get some Jazzier inflections in there too. With seemingly consummate ease he can give a tenderness and fragility to each tune and then deliver enough emotion and feeling into each track to blow you away every time. If anyone should be receiving BRITS for services to the music industry or Life Time Achievement Awards then the powers that be should look no further.

The highlights are many and plentiful throughout this stunning collection. It all starts with a remix (Don’t worry it’s a sympathetic treatment not a complete overhaul) of the classic Japan track ‘Ghosts’ and ends with the only new, previously unreleased, composition on the double album ‘Where’s Your Gravity’. In between you are just left bereft of superlatives to lavish on the plethora of aural ecstasy. From the chilling first notes of the sensitive and sensational ‘Forbidden Colours’ to the slap bass laden, powerful, almost funky, ‘Pulling Punches’, through
to the smouldering agonies of the painfully beautiful ‘Let The Happiness In’ this 1982-2012 retrospective has it all. ‘Orpheus’ is still as captivating as ever, the horns bleed through punctuating and accenting with such effective precision. ‘Pop Song’ still sounds as fresh and creative and ‘Jean The Birdman’, amongst others, reminds us that Mr Sylvian is not all about deep contemplative soul searching melancholy.

Only one song is included here from his last compilation but it would have been a travesty to have omitted it. ‘Wonderful World’ is just one of the best ways to spend six minutes of your life. With David sharing vocals duties with the angelic Stina Nordenstam it means that there is even more complexity and texture to enjoy and be enthralled by. Taken from his ‘Snow Borne Sorrow’ album with Nine Horses it is a rich mesmerising mix of magnificent artistry. ‘The Banality Of Evil’, from the same album, also shows how good the Sylvian/Jansen writing partnership can be. ‘Manafon’, his last new solo album from 2009, is the oppressive and intense penultimate track. When heard here it almost acts to bookend the 30 years as if it were the Matter to the Anti-Matter of Ghosts. Both songs share a similarity that is not as easy to isolate with any of the other tracks on this album. ‘Where’s Your Gravity?’ acts as the curtain call to a jaw droppingly good set that defies comparison.

As a pioneer of Ambient sound and as a genuinely gifted song writer David Sylvian has been nothing short of inspirational throughout his long and distinguished career, solo or otherwise. A Victim Of Stars 1982-2012 shows just how far reaching David Sylvian’s undeniable influence can be traced. There is not one bad song on here. There is not one good song on here, all are without question…..at least fantastic and at best, breathtaking. If you only ever buy one more album you could do a lot worse than to make it this one.

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