Eternal recurrence in a key concept of the pop-landscape and one example was found in the case of David Sylvian. In the 1960s, Scott Walker found himself afflicted with another kind of Beatlemania and went decidedly odd - staging car-crashes to get out of gigs, being found asleep on park-benches & escaping to a monastery. Sylvian didn't quite go that far, though he has alluded to addictions from this period (it was the 1980s!), but found himself in a similar position to Walker: artistic aspirations, good looks and a burgeoning teenybop audience. Ironically as Japan began to have commercial success, with fifth album 'Tin Drum' and the 'Oil on Canvas'-tour they split. The band-free likes of 'Ghosts' & 'Nightporter' and work with Ryuichi Sakamoto ('Bamboo Houses', 'Forbidden Colours', 'Taking Islands in Africa') had obviously been liberating.
Recorded in London and West Berlin in 1983 and 1984, 'Brilliant Trees' was rumoured to be an arduous task for Sylvian, who "experimented" with uncompleted/unheard tracks before getting to these, and reportedly found the experience of playing back the material uncomfortable. Sylvian around the time of 'Dead Bees on a Cake' cited this and the 'Rain Tree Crow'-album as his personal favourites; while the recent 'snow borne sorrow' by nine horses advances on the type of territory here such as 'The Ink in the Well' and 'Nostalgia.' The list of musicians who contributed to this is fantastic - Can-member Holger Czukay, former Japan drummer/synthplayer (& Sylvian's brother) Steve Jansen, Sakamoto, Jon Hassell ('Power Spot', 'On Land'), Danny Thompson, Mark Isham, Richard Barbieri (another former Japan member), Kenny Wheeler, Phil Palmer. Co-produced with Steve Nye, who was behind 'Tin Drum', it's an impressive album that is probably the record many wish Scott Walker had released instead of 'Climate of Hunter.'
'Pulling Punches' is the most rock track here, like a more complex 'The Art of Parties' with a jazzier-groove and some spacey world music sounds that probably emanate from Czukay, it would be the last time Sylvian would get anywhere near rocking out until his collaboration with Robert Fripp in the 1990s. 'The Ink in the Well' is gorgeous stuff, a complete change of tempo, as Danny Thompson's distinctive double-bass guides an acoustic Walkeresque song that namechecks Cocteau and Picasso and sets out the territory more fully explored on 1987's sublime masterpiece 'Secrets of the Beehive.'
'Nostalgia' opens with a sample of the traditional 'Persian Love Song' (which Lisa Gerrard/Dead Can Dance have also recorded) before moving into ambient art-rock climes, it sounds much better than the original cd issue which loses the subtle guitar interplay here. This is the song that gave the title to the Japan-retrospective 'Exorcising Ghosts' and also nods to Mishima with Sylvian singing about "the sound of waves." 'Nostalgia' is the track that most predicts 1986's double-album 'Gone to Earth', an absolute joy. As is minor hit single 'Red Guitar' (it was on Now 3 I think!), a song that Sylvian started playing again on tours in the 90s and zeroes, and one of those perfect pop songs like 'Whose Trip Is This?' or 'Cantonese Boy' he really ought to write more often! 'Red Guitar' like 'The Other Side of Life' sounds like a lost Bond theme, Sakamoto's piano-synth contribution is fantastic, jazzy and gorgeous like Jools Holland's solo on The The's 'Uncertain Smile.' & the lyrics show Sylvian has a sense of humour, "It's been this way for years" could have been delivered by Morrissey!
The latter half of the album is more experimental, this is due to the fact Jon Hassell co-writes and plays on two songs, 'Weathered Wall' and the title track. Hassell's distinctive sound, as heard on the second half of 'Remain in Light' and records like 'Fourth World Music', works wonderfully against Sylvian's vocals. 'Weathered Wall' is an electro-ambient joy, though the title track is the better of the two Hassell-tracks. At 8 1/2 minutes it's fairly epic stuff, but doesn't seem to last nearly long enough, drifting from minimal organ to a flood of ambient-jazz, and heartbreaking lyrics from Sylvian delivered in that croon, "there you stand making my life possible/Raise my hands up to heaven but only you could know, my whole world stands in front of me/By the look in your eyes..." I think this predicts Radiohead's 'Pyramid Song' and Talk Talk's more avant-garde material. Between these two tracks is 'Backwaters', one of Sylvian's difficult electronic works (see 'Bamboo Houses', 'Pop Song', 'Room of 16 Shimmers', 'Late Night Shopping')featuring Czukay's presence the most. Following an ambient intro the pulsing electro-groove and whispers come in, predicting Radiohead and Tricky, the latter particularly as the vocal interplay between Sylvian and Czukay works in a similar way to Martina Topley Bird and the Tricky Kid. I love Czukay's Kraut-rap, "there are always other possibilities!", a shame this track doesn't drone on endlessly like 'Aumgn', and a shame that Czukay and Sylvian haven't sung with each other on more records. I'd love to hear Girls Aloud or Sugababes doing a song that features Holger doing his rap-thing. Wonderful!
'Brilliant Trees' was a great debut album, the memories of Japan would be banished with a trio of records in the following three years, 'Alchemy: An Index of Possibilties' (1985), 'Gone to Earth' (1986), and 'Secrets of the Beehive' (1987), all of which are in this budget price reissue programme that makes the remasters of 2003 available at a pleasant price. The cover is much better than the original yellow 'compact price' cd I have and sounds fine, shame there aren't any bonus-tracks, but you can't have everything!!!