Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Between Darkness And Shadowy Light

David Sylvian - September

I seem to be on an eternal, single-minded search for that magical piece of music that will completely consume me, and I'm sure you are too (why else would you be here?) I often think of the Camus quote on the back of Scott 4: "A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened."

The two great and simple images (or, if you will, albums) for me are both ones that I discovered when I was about thirteen and which have stayed with me ever since, reflecting different colours as I've grown older, but losing none of their vibrancy or ability to surprise. The first is Astral Weeks, Van Morrison's solo debut masterpiece, which I'd heard my Dad play for as long as I could remember, but which didn't really hit me hard until I hit my teens. The other is David Sylvian's third solo LP, Secrets Of The Beehive which I bought with my pocket-money when it came out in '87. The two albums are inextricably linked for me and do share some common traits - each stands alone in the back-catalogue of its creator, both stylistically and (to my mind) as respective career pinnacles. Both are predominantly acoustic records with elements of jazz. But both also sound quite unlike each other, and almost anything by anyone else.

I'm sure Astral Weeks will be covered at some stage here, but for now I'm going to concentrate on Secrets Of The Beehive. It's a fragile yet brutal album, dark but with the most intense shafts of penetrating sunlight. The arrangements are timeless, perfect, and the lyrics render the kind of detail that brings you halfway into the singer's world, but leaves you to fill in the space with your own dreams, memories and secrets. Sylvian's voice is as rich and beguiling as ever.

There are numerous moments on this LP that are so impossibly beautiful they still give me a chill of pleasure almost twenty years and hundreds of listens after first hearing them. There's the ghost-like (or "Ghosts"-like) mystery of "Maria", overflowing with dark, synthetic waves and half-dreamt voices. There's the brooding foghorn of brass which creeps in at the beginning of "Let The Happiness In" like a dark mist over the Irish Sea. There's the astonishing moment where you think "Orpheus" has ended, and the strings and tape-effects gradually die away until a perfectly judged piano rolls gently back in and you're treated to another 2:20 of perfection: hardly anybody does this - allows instruments and songs to breathe and decay in their natural space, yet this album is full of this kind of space and poise. Then there's my favourite: the middle-eight of "The Devil's Own" where an other-worldly, chilly, baroque woodwind arrangement seems to actually physically stroke even more desolate beauty out of Sylvian's voice. My thirteen year-old ears had never heard anything like all this before, and I'm still looking for something that can tap so deeply into my heart. The only way I can describe the feeling this record gives me is that it seems to reveal secrets to me that I keep from myself.

It's impossible for me to choose a favourite song to share here, so I've gone for "September", the short, first track. It's the perfect introduction to the LP, practically a lesson in exposition, so I'm not going to mess with that. If it doesn't leave you wanting more then it's just possible your heart is made of stone.

Meanwhile, my search goes on... and it's led me into all kinds of unexpected places. Occasionally I've glimpsed something of the same spirit that Sylvian conjured up: in Arvo Part, the Beth Gibbons and Rustin' Man record, Nina Nastasia, Ted Hughes, Charlie Mingus, Vespertine by Bjork, Barenboim playing Beethoven, Scott 4 (suitably enough). All are wonderful in very different ways, but I'm still looking for something that gets me buzzing like this LP - please tip me off if you've any suggestions...

Buy - David Sylvian - Secrets Of The Beehive ("Forbidden Colours" version)
Buy - David Sylvian - Secrets Of The Beehive ("Promise" version)
Download - David Sylvian - Secrets Of The Beehive ("Forbidden Colours" version)
Visit - David Sylvian
Visit - David Sylvian


EERO said...

You have perfectly captured the astonishing wealth of this wonderfully melancholy record.

I can think of numerous songs which have touched me as profoundly as any on "Secrets", but no album comes close in its entirety...perhaps Eno's Another Green World or King Crimson's Lark's Tongues in Aspic, but neither has the emotional clarity and the nakedness of this, Sylvian's greatest Work.

For songs, may I suggest Bryan Ferry's most recent collaboration with Eno on Frantic, "I Thought" and Marrianne Faithful's "Wilder Shores of Love", both work very well with anything on Scott 4 as well.

Anonymous said...

To a certain degree I would consider "Secrets of the Beehive" to be the central stillpoint of my music collection. Nothing else has ever quite matched the enduring perfection of this disc. Yet, the search continues...

Try :
Arvo Part (Litany)
Ralph Towner (Anthem)
Robert Fripp (Gates of Paradise) Lisa Gerrard (Immortal Memory / Duality)
Roger Eno (Flatlands)
Brian Eno and Harold Budd (The Pearl)
Godspeed You Black Emperor (Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven)
Henryk Gorecki (Symphony 3 "Sorrowful Songs" w/ Dawn Upshaw)