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DAVID SYLVIAN Blemish (2003 UK 8-track CD his sixth solo album featuring avant-garde guitarist Derek Bailey and Austrian guitarist and electronic musician Fennesz fold-out digipak picture sleeve SOUND-CD0001)
Blemish is ex-Japan frontman David Sylvian's long-awaited follow-up to 1999's Dead Bees on a Cake. That album was, in part at least, a celebration of his love for wife Ingrid Chavez and couched in suitably blissful and luxuriant jazz/ambient tones. Blemish, by contrast, is a fraught, wracked and occasionally embittered affair, a more difficult though equally rewarding listening experience. The opening title track, for example, is a lengthy and anguished excursion, its lyrical theme of estrangement set to a broody, quivering guitar chord and punctuated by moments of musical violence.
There are three bold collaborations with veteran British improv guitarist Derek Bailey, whose spare, atonal haiku tones will present a challenge to those who turn to Sylvian for comfort listening. The scratchy, CD-skipping effects of "The Only Daughter" are also calculated to disconcert the listener, while "Late Night Shopping" is shot through with disquieting intentions and laced with sinister strains of avant-garde noise. This, however, is a brave album and in its own way as beautiful as its predecessor in its starkness. --David StubbsSee all Product description
Top customer reviews
In a situation like this when there is no one else involved in the process and there is no one else to just say No, the danger is ending up with something like this.
I can find no redeeming moments.
Blemish is Sylvian's first release on his own label, and it's hard not to see it as a statement of independence. There are reference points here to previous songs, but none come easily, and though the production still emphasises Sylvian's vocal performances, there's less reverence for the voice here; at times sampled and chopped up in a way that surprises.
Here too is the spirit of adventure that has characterised some of Sylvian's instrumental collaborations - songs improvised around jagged guitar tracks recorded a continent away from the vocal, and on "A Fire in the Forest" a unsettling re-working process more in the spirit of Momus's recent "Oskar Tennis Champion". Elsewhere Sylvian's lyrics take on an oblique sense of detachment reminiscent of Scott Walker on "Climate of Hunter" or even a less dark "Tilt".
Ironically, it's on this final track that Blemish also comes closest to Sylvian-by-numbers, with less of a distance between vocal and musical backing. Here the atmospherics cradle the singer in a way reminiscent of the best tracks on "Gone to Earth". A flower of delicate and tender beauty in a garden of thornier delights.
It’s not an album to dip in and out of at all but demands an attentive listen right through. You need to have had your nerves jarred by the discord properly to appreciate the gentle hopefulness of “a fire in the forest” at the end. The overall effect is decidedly strange but compelling.
The normal band of musicians one associates with Sylvian recordings is entirely absent -- no Robert Fripp, brother Steve Jansen, Mark Isham etc. The new musical style has much to do with the extraordinary approach of avant garde jazz guitarist Derek Bailey, who features heavily. Nevertheless devoted Sylvian fans will pick up echoes from earlier recordings and will probably get the logic of where he’s at and how he got there.
A must buy, then, for the devoted follower, but not a particularly logical starting place for anybody new to David Sylvian’s work.
Certainly, there is plenty of mirror-gazing here, as Sylvian seems to show an acute self-awareness of his public image with the title tracks' lyrics: 'don't tell me that love is all there is/I know, don't I?/I know.' He is still on his journey though, preaching 'all is bloated and far from truth' in the same track, then on 'The Heart Knows Better' he appears to turn his attentions to thoughts of a lustful nature... 'every night is wedding night/in my bed/but the heart knows better/and I'm absent from the place I'm meant to be'.
All in all, its a fascinating if slightly shrouded insight into a man who is now apparently free of much of what bound him in recent years, so lets hope, for our own selfish reasons, that his output will increase in the coming years!
"There is always sunshine/above the grey sky/I will try to find it/ Yes I will try"
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