David Sylvian David SylvianA Victim Of Stars, 1982-2012
David Sylvian’s musical evolution has been one of the most fascinating of the last 30 years, similar in many ways to that of the band Talk Talk. Starting from the synth-pop of Japan - here represented by a remix of “Ghosts” (let us remember, incidentally, that this is the same song that Goldie, signing as Rufige Cru, sampled back in the days in “Ghosts Of My Life”) - and coming to immerse himself in improvisation alongside such luminaries as Derek Bailey and John Tillbury. Sylvian’s work, like that of Mark Hollis in Talk Talk, is characterised by a process of subjecting his music to an increasingly evident, rigorous formal austerity. It is precisely his constant search for new sources of inspiration - his commitment to a musical form in constant mutation around his magnetic voice, but always perfectly coherent - that make his career memorable. This is also what makes listening to this compilation so enjoyable.
Although there have been previous anthologies, “A Victim Of Stars, 1982-2012” makes them obsolete by. It is an exhaustive release, covering all of his phases on different labels and with different collaborators, thus making the album a perfect entry-point into his sound universe. Accordingly, starting with the aforementioned “Ghosts”, he includes his collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto in the 80s; featuring such memorable moments as “Bamboo Houses”, “Bamboo Music” and, in particular, that perfect, timeless pop song, “Forbidden Colours”. The latter was launched to worldwide fame with its inclusion on the soundtrack to Nagisa Oshima’s film “Happy Birthday, Mr. Lawrence”. It was perhaps the most accessible moment of a career that is characterised by an effort to sound reluctantly poppy - to break down the barriers of the song format, whilst remaining within its recognisable structures.
The collaboration with Ryuichi would signal one of Sylvian’s main virtues: knowing how to surround himself with collaborators with whom he has a perfect understanding and knowing how to get the best out of them for his own benefit. Thus the presence and mark of Robert Fripp, Holger Czukay, Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot, among others, doesn’t prevent his personality and intentions from prevailing. Across his work, on different songs on this compilation double album, these people have been travelling companions rather than guest stars. Importantly, these collaborations - and his dependence on a circle of friends with similar artistic intentions - balance out the less attractive aspects of his proposal, such as his mystical interests born from social isolation. While his spirit leads him to escape from society, his music leads him back to it, through the egalitarian collaboration of improvisation. In fact, this is the paradox that gives his music its identity.
He consolidated his solo, post-Japan aesthetic with the release of a number of masterpieces at the end of the 80s; including “Brilliant Trees” and “Secrets Of The Behive”. Then came “Dead Bees On A Cake”, which can be considered a transitional work, with which he brought the 90s to a close. Although he remains within the format of an elegant, introspective, melancholic pop album (sufficiently distanced and developed, of course) - Sylvian started to glimpse new routes for his music in hardcore improvisation. This was the path that he followed into the 21st century. This was when Sylvian decided to take a leap of faith forward, similar to that made by Scott Walker, in search of new horizons for songs with improvisation. In order to do this, he had to break from his usual label, Virgin; he founded his own platform, Samadhisound, and developed “Blemish”. Today the album is generally considered to be one of the best albums of the last decade, and rightly so. On the album, Sylvian collaborated with no less than Fennesz and Derek Bailey - creating a fascinating treatise on the possibilities arising from the encounter between the textures and methods of laptop music, and improvisation with pop.
Nevertheless, his last album prior to this one, “Manafon”, did not share the same fate. Despite having called on a real dream team - almost a Who’s Who of European improvisation, with members of AMM and Polwechsel - it received mixed feedback. At the time there was the feeling that Sylvian’s voice wasn’t as well integrated into the sound context as it had been previously. Even so, his prestige has remained intact - particularly if we compare him with others of his generation who have taken refuge in the comfort of symphonic orchestras, rather than taking the risk of radically renewing their proposal (right, Peter Gabriel?). Although the panoramic view offered here may suggest the pessimistic view that Sylvian’s career has run its course, we hope not. In any case, the number of good songs included should encourage those who have not yet done so to submerge themselves in one of the most distinctive, special voices from the United Kingdom over the last quarter of a century.