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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 6 March 2004
As others have mentioned previously, Dead Bees on a Cake was Sylvian’s long-awaited follow up to the near masterpiece Secrets of the Bee Hive, as well as a spiritual and sensual ode to his wife and muse Ingrid Chavez... It is the combination of these disparate factors that accounts for the wavering, dreamlike quality that the songs possess, with Sylvian never sticking to one style... always moving, experimenting and re-examining the music that came before. It can be inconsistent listen to an infuriating degree; though songs like I Surrender, Midnight Sun and Café Europa more than justify the price of admission.
Things kick of in a grand fashion with the nine and a half-minute epic I Surrender, in which Sylvain paints a portrait of inner-city life and love with the sounds of metropolitan jazz. The result is pitched somewhere between early Miles Davis, Tom Waits and even shades of Chris Rea, though with the trademark Sylvian touch of impassive, moody vocals and swirling, nocturnal lyrics elevating it beyond the realms of the MOR top-forty. Dobro #1 and Midnight Sun are both densely atmospheric Americana retreads, with Sylvian not sounding too far from M. Ward on his End of Amnesia LP, as he spins his lyrics over a strangely timeless bed of instrumentation, which could have easily been recorded one-hundred years ago...
Other standout tracks include the mournful Shining of Things, which looks back to the melancholic string arrangements found on Beehive, and the jazz-tinged travelogue (and aforementioned) Café Europa, in which Sylvian’s lyrics are like Dylan’s on Blonde on Blonde; mixing epic narrative rumination with surreal bursts of profound poetry. Pollen Path is a loud and freewheeling blast of post-punk noise, which does seem like something of an anachronism when placed between the more reflective, horn-lead numbers... whilst Wanderlust is one of the greatest examples of dreamy guitar pop to never bother the UK top ten.
The two final tracks bring the album to a close wonderfully, with the spiritual Islamic (don’t quote me on that) prayer Praise seeing Sylvian team with vocalist Shree Maa to create a beautiful and haunting song which prefigures the untitled tracks on Sigur Ros’s bracket’s album (in terms of divine, heavenly nonsense that is). Meanwhile, final track Darkest Dreaming is a classic Sylvian nighttime exploration of poetry and ambience that is not too far removed from something like Brilliant Trees or Nostalgia. Dead Bees on a Cake is a good album, filled with wonderful moments that are too often is hampered by a few inconsistent duds that brings down the final rating from a five to a four.
It is hardly surprising to find some off numbers in a record of this size and scope, with Sylvian creating an epic to no doubt make up for lost time... At this length, Sylvian could of easily shaved off four or five tracks and created a nine-piece masterpiece which created a mood that was un-broken by bouts of wildly self-indulgent experimentation. That said, most CD players do come with a skip button, and the tracks name checked previously are classics, in their own right... and at this current price too!! Why not give it a go.
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'Dead bees on a cake'is the first solo LP proper from Sylvian since 'Secrets on the Beehive'. It has elements from all his previous solo incarnations, possibly even a bit of Japan. It also has some new influences- Ged Lynch's drum'n'bass inflected percussion, Talvin Singh's percussive presence, Ingrid Chavez's vocals (the b-side 'Whose trip is this?' demonstrates what a lovely voice she has- could someone reissue her Paisley Park LP? Oh, and she wrote 'Justify My Love'- before Lenny Kravitz sold her out to Madonna!)and the return of classic Sylvian collaborators: Steve Jansen and Ryuichi Sakamoto. This album is closer to a double LP in length- Sylvian seems to want to present an eclectic blend of styles (to makeup for time passed?): the Americana of 'Dobro', the 'Beehive'-strings of 'The Shining of Things', the John Cage meets Radiohead post-rock of 'Pollen Path', the heavenly guitar-pop of 'Wanderlust'...'I Surrender' is an epic, almost definitive song- it requotes lyrics from the obscure b-side, 'Earthbound', has horn playing remeniscent of 'Flamenco Sketches', a flute from 'Astral Weeks' and one of the most soulful voices ever. It's about nine minutes long- as ever the sign of a true epic: you don't notice the time pass and its over all too soon...'I Surrender' & 'Midnight Sun' also show Sylvian sampling for the first time- the former sampled The Mahavishnu Orcehestra's 'You Know You Know'. This took me to their wonderful 'The Inner Mounting Flame' LP: a fusion of 'Electric Ladyland'-Jimi and late Sixties Miles Davis/Tony Williams...The Miles influence is stretched further on 'All My Mother's names'- closest to 'Bitches Brew' tracks, 'Spanish Key' & 'Sanctuary' (also 'Meeting of two spirits' by Mahavishnu).'Krishna Blue' reminds me more of 'In a silent way' and Bjork (the latter due to the Talvin Singh connection). 'Cafe Europa' reminds me of Japan's 'Nightporter'- tho' is less over the top, more reflective & laidback; imagine Bryan Ferry singing on Talk Talk's 'Spirit of Eden'...'God Man' is the least track on the album, at least its short- the electronic whirs reference the fact that Goldie & Roni Size & Tricky have all been influenced by 'Ghosts'. Sylvian acknowledges his past, which is nice...'Thalhiem' is between 'Before the Bullfight' and 'Buoy', perhaps even 'Brilliant Trees'- a more typical Sylvian track. The closer 'Darkest Dreaming' is an extension on such tracks as 'The First Day' & 'Damage'- a swirling minimal ambience traced back to 'Taking Islands in Africa'...It also offers the possibility of doubt, the potential fade of long term happiness. Of bliss...This album would be the perfect introduction to Sylvian- and proof that time & money are pointless. Is Sylvian a luxury? All I know is more people should get this album- a further example of Sylvian's on-going excellence. Yes, another definitive, obligatory purchase...
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on 11 June 2000
I have to disagree with the above view (eloquent but inaccurate) I have been a great fan of Sylvians work from the days of Japan, but Brillian Trees, his first solo album was a breath of fresh air to me and opened up an interest in all things ambient and jazzy, except your run of the mill new age music. Since then he has done several great albums, secrets of the beehive had its weakness's although great but First day was disappointing except Jean the Birdman. This is a self indulgent album,(he relies less on the influence of others musical input) but as we are interested in Sylvian then this is only a bonus. It was my favourite album along with Moby's PLAY in 1999 and I highly recommend you buy it, but do be patient with it. It may grow to be your favourite album of his, but it may take several weeks, such is the genius of this man.
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on 14 November 2013
Sublime is a plaudit often aimed at Sylvian's work & in this case fully deserved. As an eclectic selection of styles this release works a treat, showcasing much of the aural imagery of Secrets of the Beehive as well as some harder, bluesier material.
Sylvian has always been, & proved since this release happy to remain, something of a contradictory artist. A bit like Bowie or Gabriel someone who can tear up the rule book & produce works of astounding depth, challenging his listeners to 'get the message'.

There are too many stand out tracks on this release to give them all a proper assessment but for me the real classics are; I Surrender, Thalheim, Praise, Darkest Dreaming & Wanderlust. But that's not to suggest the others are mearly filler. Far from it, but everyone will have their favourites.

The mans pipes are, as always in perfect tune, a voice that could send an angry dragon into sweet contemplation accompanied by some wonderful playing & superb timing. There is no one like him in the industry, it will be a far poorer place when he finally goes.
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I really tried to like this CD. But, as usual, Sylvian confounds expectations by, for me, producing the best tracks at the very end.

Released in 1999, `Dead Bees on a Cake' was Sylvian's most `American' set to date. And indeed the opening of the first track, the nine-minute `I Surrender' - a tale of a melancholic epiphany - reminded me of Barry White (yes, that's right!), with its quasi-spoken vocal style. But Sylvian-mode soon kicks in as deep strings, flute, and flugelhorn are supported by a slow and steady beat.

Track two is an old American Mid-West blues ballad with an appropriate Dobro guitar, and then we're into traditional blues in track three. (The joys of melancholy pervade many of the songs on this CD. Printed so small on the sleevenotes as to be easily missed, is a quote from American poet Robert Hass: "If we make a poem of celebration, it has to include a lot of darkness for it to be real.") Track four is another slow, sparse, steady beat on which Sylvian sings and various instruments float. But the ear soon tires of this percussive style as song after song is constructed on its foundation.

A short diversion with a Vangelis-style short ballad - too short - in `Alphabet Angel' leads to the first of two tracks that have overt links with the music of the Indian subcontinent. The first of these, `Krishna Blue', does nothing for me; the second, `All of My Mother's Names', is better with its increased improvisation and interesting sounds.

At the very heart of the CD, and a track that is itself full of heart, is `The Shining of Things': just Sylvian and strings give vent on a beautiful ballad.

In `Pollen Path' the style switches again - to rock! But even this, alas, has the same ponderous beat as earlier tracks. But as the album draws to a close, veils are drawn and beauty has a more vibrant edge. Whilst the seeming tedious beat that underlies the whole album is still present in `Wanderlust', the singing has more vigour than before. The penultimate track, `Praise', is haunting, but the highlight of the whole album lies at its end. It is no peroration; no natural denouement for all that has gone before. Rather, this five-star track, `Darkest Dreaming', with its more than haunting guitarwork, with Sylvian's perfect pitch of voice, affects me, moves me deeply every time. It is a troubling yet re-assuring epiphany that seems at odds with the sorrow and - let's face it - banality of the rest of the album.

So, the set for this CD does not gel for me. It has a lack of passion. Its seventy minutes of cumbersome and undifferentiated musical geology, interspersed with only modest diamonds of light, contrasts markedly with previous work that adopted scintillating and complex soundworlds. The final track aside, there is not much here that inspires. Four stars - just.
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on 6 May 2013
For those who love the 'songs' of Manafon this album should be too 'lively' for you? Slow Indian percussion and jazz riffs are the name of the game. Great lyrics, as usual from Sylvian and his silky voice is at it's very best. The best, and only songs worthy of a second play are I Surrender, Cafe Europa, Wander lust and the short, and very atmospheric Darkest Dreaming. Forget this and get Everything and Nothing for the best of David's more commercial work?
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on 28 March 2007
I'd not heard any of his output since Beehive, and my first impressions are'oh my this is interesting varietal output from Sylvian'..exquisitely produced. After several listens I have started to really notice the delineations between the different tracks and unusually want to review it almost track by track instead of as an overall themed album.

From the seminal intro track of 'I Surrender' with its languid jazz soulful background with intro so smooth u want Luther Vandross to pop up somewhere... to the odd little 'Dobro' actually feel sorry for him when he says 'it rained on my house all summer long') a great expression of despair.. this is talented stuff. 'Midnight Sun' is worthy of Robert Johnson, this is the track made me smile and say ' he's done it again' I'd never thought of Sylvian as a blues singer before but his voice is great here and the metallic clanking, mechanical rythmic backing is worthy of any 'railroad track/ chain gang' can imagine the hot air, the baked earth.. such an interesting mix I was straight back to New Orleans on this one !

'Thalhiem' is less striking for his talent, a bit slow rock ballad, backgroundish, didn't do much for me but that's only cos some other tracks are such 'things that make u go...'

'Godman' has simple repeatable/memorable hook lines and is beaty, with japan-esque tones and drums and an amusing 'pink panther' type vibes interlude right out of lounge.. also contains the title seems short even at 4mins.

Like other reviewers I do feel this is a 'pic n mix' at times with so many styles and approaches and it's got a lot of mellowed out electric tones with heavy echo and reverb giving some tracks a dream-like quality but thats often common to this artist. However some tracks dont 'engage' and really 'grab you' the way his material often does across an entire CD usually, like 'alphabet angel' for example.

Krishna Blue has lovely tablas and eastern drone/organ sounds..quite a chilled track here...which I like a lot for its atmosphere more than its lyrical creativity. I don't sense the strength of Sylvian's poetic soul as strongly in this track as many others, also the vocals are less strong in the mix than on other songs.It swirls a bit more towards the end into a droning indian type beat like many other CDs I like with this style on.

'The Shining of Things' is slow, string-led and languid, poignant and dreamy. 'Cafe Europe' similarly laid back, electric reverby tones, and again unusually it's a 'name hook line song' like Krishna Blue with a repetitive title phrase, almost like he's making more typical 'album songs' without the depth of feeling that comes from his more personal compositions.

Someone else reviewing mentioned 'contentment' and this album seems indeed less angst and pain derived than many of his more melancholic endeavours from the past. Easy listening it's not. but veers close to chill at times rather than 'disturb' as some of his songs do on other CDs. It's not Donald Fagen but it's also not the shadowy ninja soul of his former outpourings..

Pollen Path abruptly pulls us back into Japan-land dark and groaning industrial clash sounds and stretched/stressed mechanicals..a Harkonnen track conjuring up another of his distorted world sounds..with what sounds like banjo crossed with koto at times..nice stuff

we jump onward into fully instrumental Indian/Japan futuristic with 'All my Mother's Names' again dark threatening background sounds and film soundtrack ambience that would grace the Blade Runner subways...laced with a tabla don't want this on your I-Pod walking home alone on a dark night.. it escalates into a jazz fusion style cacophony with almost Hendrix like moments for a few seconds then bleeps and radio frequencies back into tabla supported electronica... online game worlds would love this one. 'Praise' is unusual also with female eastern plaintive vocals in almost poetic chant mode, and no sign of Sylvian's voice' very indian eastern, almost whatyou would expect on Nitin Sawhney.

The dreamy synth mood continues to the final short track with the ethereal 'Darkest Dreaming' almost a 'send you off to sleep' lullaby track at times...sweet..

Overall it's incredibly polished, relaxing and interesting and well rounded with fine listenable songs and a smooth jazz base at times producing a most professional mix. I like eclectic mish-mashes myself so I can only say I rate it highly overall but it's a different impact CD to previous offerings with much less acoustic and more dreamy synthy 'happy' chill electric content. Would appeal well to people who have never heard him before. Re-invention and variety are great things in an artist - I like the eastern (non japanese) influences showing in this work, I dare say he's still got a lot of surprises left in him yet !
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on 24 July 2012
This is certainly a good album, but a disappointment to those who expected a Secrets of the Beehive part two. In fact, I rate it even less than Gone to Earth or Brilliant Trees. Dead Bees reveals an optimistic Sylvian exploring different musical territories. It's all worth it, but it lacks the spirit of Trees, the mysticism of Earth and the timeless melancholy of Beehive. Those are 4 star albums, this one deserves three.
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on 30 October 2013
Sylvian has so much more to offer than much of whats available out there today. I will continue to pick up other music by him to reassure myself that I can be touched by music in the same way that I was when I began to listen to music in the 1970's. I loved Blemish and will probably go for "The good son and the only daughter" remix on the strength of many of yhe reviews I have heard.
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on 1 June 2011
David ...David ...David ...we are not worthy and yet you let us into your world and make us see that all is not as it can be can sound like are touched with genius and you let us share some of your insight and for that we are eternally grateful...Dead Bees on a Cake is to be played when the world is a bad place and you need santuary ...and lets face it we all need sanctuary from time to in David's world for a short while and all is well with the world again...
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