I always consider that David Sylvian should be cast in a similar role to that of Scott Walker. Both turned their backs on what were enormously successful bands to follow their own muse with little real care for commercial rewards. Instead they simply went about creating a distinctive niche from which both are still putting out records which bear little interest in commercial realities and are more artistic statements.
"Brilliant Trees" is where Sylvian began his journey. Here is a record which is steeped in French literature and art from the Paris of the inter-war years of Satre and musical cues coming from jazzy time signtures of ECM, the forth world ambience of Brian Eno, and echoes of a band who coloured a great deal of his music took cues from throughout the 80's, Can.
There is an echo of former group Japan in the opening track "Pulling Punches", which could have easily fit onto the final "Tin Drum" album, but from then on it really takes no interest in anything of his past legacy. The jazzy time signatures of "Ink In The Well" and "Red Guitar" mark them as two of the most distinctive top 40 records of the whole decade. Whilst a good deal of the rest of the album is filled with gentle textures and a quite ambient feel about it. Although this contains faint echoes of Japan it is fuzzier and lacks the clinical feel some of their work contains.
What makes the album for me is some of the contributions from the support musicians. Danny Thompson's double bass sounds as rich and warm here as he did when working with Nick Drake and the solo by Kenny Wheeler on "Ink In The Well" gives the track a really blistering second half. Old collaborator Riyuichi Sakamoto provides some beautiful support throughout but it's the lovely treated trumpets of Jon Hassel which dominate almost all of the second half of this album which cement the move away from pop to a place Sylvian clearly wanted to be. Lyrically intelligent and at times bleak this is a fine record.
Along with "Secrets Of The Beehive" and "Dead Bees On A Cake" this is one of Sylvian's most satisfying and coherent works. After 20 plus years I still return to it. As for the remaster? The sound is brighter and having a hint of hiss all adds to the atmosphere, in my view.
David Sylvian's debut from 1984 remains an undoubted classic. The break between 'Tin Drum'/'Oil on Canvas' & this album, though only a year or so, had given Sylvian chance to grow & develop. The supporting cast- including Ryuichi Sakamoto, Danny Thompson, Mark Isham, Steve Jansen, Holger Czuckay & Richard Barbieri all add wonderfully to the record.
'Pulling Punches' is a more organic continuation of the rockier end of Japan- such as 'The Art of Parties'. It also reminds me of 'Scary Monsters'-Bowie & 'Lightning Strikes' by The Clash. It would be the last time Sylvian would 'rock out' til 'The First Day'...'The Ink in the Well' contrasts with this, a mellow lull aided by Thompson's jazzy double bass. Think Scott Walker sings Tim Buckley (in blue). Sylvian, still kind of a pop-star, singing about Picasso (It seems 80's popstars had musical ambitions, rather than commercial ones)...'Nostalgia' takes an Oriental vocal & the type of ambient space of 'My New Career'& 'A Foreign Place'to fresh lengths. It provided title for the Japan compilation 'Exorcising Ghosts' & seems to be doing just that. Along with the later 'Maria' & 'Godman' it seems to be taking the template of 'Ghosts' to previously uncharted territories. 'Red Guitar' is one of Sylvian's great songs; the piano has a warm jazzy feel- the song itself has the drama of a Bond theme & the brilliant, resigned "It's been this way for years"...'Weathered Wall' continues the Yellow Magic/Sakamoto-inflections of 'Bamboo Houses/Music' & 'Taking Islands in Africa'. Co-written with Jon Hassell, it takes us to the kind of ambient plain Eno dreamt up a few decades ago. 'Backwaters', with a co-vocal by Can's Holger Czuckay, predicts the sinister minimalism & vocal interplay (beauty with alien) found on early Tricky records ('Aftermath'; 'Ponderosa'; 'Makes me Wanna Die'). The Krautrock keyboard repetition finally gives way to the closing title track. Has there ever been a more sublime song? (Hardly...)Sylvian's vocal is set to strings of keyboards for most of the song, building on songs such as 'Ghosts' & 'Forbidden Colours'. This one sounds like the fade of lights, the passage of time, the remembrance of things past. Percussion arrives, this is a song that you could imagine wanting to last forever: "Raise my hands up to heaven/But only you could know/My whole world stands in front of me/ By the look in your eye"...
'Brilliant Trees' is one of those wonderful albums, contender for the 'Astral Weeks' of the Eighties. It is waiting for another, more deserving audience. I think Radiohead owe a debt to it. A brilliant record by a consistently brilliant artist.
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!!!
on 25 May 2006
I eagerly await this remastered version of Brilliant Trees having purchased the vinyl on its first release. Prior to this purchase I can recall seeing the LP reviewed on an arts programme and being described as beautiful. This is a rarely heard word when describing music, but on listening to it for the first time it became clear that there was no more apt word. Whilst Nostalgia is, for me, the stand out track, it would be difficult to suggest, by implication, that other tracks are not so good. When listening to the LP back then it transported me to a beautiful, albeit wistful, place and the emotions are no less when listening to it now. I can't recommend Brilliant Trees enough!
on 28 March 2007
This is Sylvian's most ' Japan ' like standalone album at times, from the initial opening of 'Pulling Punches' there is that punchy poppy brassy short stab japan-esque soundtrack with the wailing silk like sylvian vocals beloved of all japan tracks.. he immediately sounds the same ..the unique voice (that Bryan Ferry always tried to get ha ha..and occasionally succeeded ) - this has that sound, long drawn out obscure semi-atonal notes, and that lovely high/low tone suddent drop in the voice that marks him out as eastern influenced... he does that trick just like Bert Jansch sometimes.
Ink in the Well is brilliant, Danny Thompson double bass intro/backing just like 'Boy with the Gun' on the later 'Secrets of Beehive' CD.. and the smoother voice that Sylvian developed after Japan. 'Nostalgia' is a fine eastern influenced opening track with a lovely memorable tune..like 'Ghosts' and the unmistakeable japan tones..
Again lots of peotry in lyrics, studied moments and then also more Japan-ish on Red Guitar which transports you immediately back to 'Talking Drum' days.. a fine album with a transitional stage where he has emerged from Japan and shows the poetic and intense lyrical composition that emerges ever stronger on "Secrets' and later albums like "Dead Bees on a Cake'
Buy this to enjoy classic Sylvian creativity and style...and wonderfully thought out lyrics sung with smooth style over a background of engaging beats, clicks, drones and strings. Another album for anyone into percussive perfection also. One thing that always stands out is that he just never does the ordinary thing, never follows the same dull western pop scales, what he creates couldn't be anyone else.