David Sylvian

Sylvian's Plight And Premonition (1988), recorded with Holger Czukay of Krautrock legends Can, consists of two extended, droning compositions that are a highly sensitive and subtle marriage of electronics with ethnic flavours. Mesmerising and meticulously detailed, they're all atmospheric keyboards and eerie chimes, embellished with seductive Eastern and Mid-eastern textures."

artist:
David Sylvian

country of origin:
UK

style(s):
Ambient pop, art rock, environmental, ethno-ambient

decades active (solo):
80's- 10's

essential releases:

  • Gone To Earth (1986, Virgin)
  • Plight And Premonition [with Holger Czukay] (1988, Virgin)
  • Flux And Mutability [with Holger Czukay] (1989, Virgin)
  • Approaching Silence [with Frank Perry & Robert Fripp] (1999, Virgin)
  • Camphor (2002, Virgin)

Reviewed by Mike G

David Sylvian has made some fine ambient music in the decades since the dissolution of his art rock band Japan in the early 1980’s. Although he is an accomplished songwriter, the albums listed above are largely instrumental and are the pick of his ambient and downtempo work.

The half-instrumental/half-vocal Gone To Earth (1986) suggests a solo style not too far away from Japan with its fragile, poetic, distinctively English compositions for piano, synthesisers and sundry other instruments. The album’s guest list is an impressive one including guitarist Robert Fripp and trumpeter Jon Hassell.

Plight And Premonition (1988) is rather different, the first of two excellent collaborations with Holger Czukay of Krautrock legends Can. The album's two extended, droning compositions are a highly sensitive and subtle marriage of electronics with ethnic flavours. Mesmerising and meticulously detailed, they're all atmospheric keyboards and eerie chimes, embellished with seductive Eastern and Mid-eastern textures. Flux and Mutability (1989) with Czukay is similarly structured, rich in detail and rewards careful listening.

From an ambient perspective the 90's were a relative barren period for Sylvian. But late in the decade came the excellent Approaching Silence (1999), comprised of music from an art installation and once again consisting of long, brooding tracks. Collaborator Frank Perry contributes subtle and exotic percussion on one track, while Robert Fripp plays his trademark ambient guitar loops and delay on the other. The album is more atmosphere than music in a conventional sense, but it's compelling late night ambience with a purity that compares with classic early Eno and the more abstract music of American Steve Roach.

Post-2000 the quality of Sylvian's work has been patchy, though Camphor (2002) is a fine compilation of instrumentals dating from the early 80's onwards - some in original form, some edited, and there are some new arrangements of earlier songs with the vocals removed. It's a good album to begin with to see if Sylvian's personal, fragile style of soundscaping is to your taste.

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