Saturday, 23 March 2019

David Sylvian ‎– Secrets Of The Beehive (1987)

Style: Ambient, Alternative Rock, Art Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl, Cass.
Label: Virgin records

Tracklist:
1.   September
2.   The Boy With The Gun
3.   Maria
4.   Orpheus
5.   The Devil's Own
6    When Poets Dreamed Of Angels
7.   Mother And Child
8.   Let The Happiness In
9.   Waterfront

Credits: Brian Gascoigne - Orchestral Arrangements, String Arrangements Mark Isham - Flugelhorn, Trumpet Steve Jansen - Drums, Percussion Phil Palmer - Guitar (Acoustic), Slide Guitar Robin Sakamoto - Piano Treatments D. Thompson - Double Bass Danny Torn - Guitar (Acoustic), Guitar (Electric), Guitar Loops Steve Nye - Engineer, Mixing, Producer David Sylvian - Composer, Guitar (Acoustic), Organ, Piano, Synthesizer, Tapes, Treated Piano, Vocals

David Sylvian’s 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, he gives himself room to wander. “The kind of people who immediately turn on a television when they are alone don’t enjoy my music,” Sylvian once observed. “It makes them terribly uncomfortable.” 
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. (Born David Alan Batt, Sylvian chose a not-so-subtle pseudonym.) 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. Speaking from the drift, he sounds confident. 
All of Sylvian’s solo music has luxuriated in that space. 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. 
His next two releases—the entirely instrumental Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities and the double album Gone to Earth—are more transitional. The former is 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. 
Gone to Earth is more essential. 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. 
If Gone to Earth feels 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. 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.
Sam Sodomsky / Pitchfork