The Guardian - David Sylvian "Blemish"


On the edge by John L. Walters


Wobbly anthems, 13-minute howls and performing on a shopping trolley – these are the joys of working alone.
David Sylvian’s Blemish (samadhisound) is a one-man affair for more than half of its playing time; just David, some noise-making devices and a large dose of personal anguish. If you’re into electronic introspection, this is cordon bleu stuff, starting with the sparse, throbbing 13-minute howl of despair that constitutes the title track. This is a very strange pop album, make no mistake, but it’s oddly affecting. My initial puzzlement has turned into cautious admiration for Sylvian’s blurting “honesty”.
      Blemish is more crafted than it initially sounds. Even the distortion is beautifully recorded. And I’m impressed by the way Syl;vian has slipped a couple of “singles” into his bleak, avant-garde catalogue of mid-life crises. Fire in the Forest has Sylvian accompanied by Christian Fennesz’s lushly glitchy electronica, inspiring him to sing with a melodic breadth that recalls his best 1980’s solo material. The song – floating slowly over two chords – has the musical and timbral substance to reward repeated listening; it would be a nice addition to the Radio 2 playlist.
      The brief How Little We Need to be Happy, in which Sylvian is accompanied by improvising guitarist Derek Bailey, is more suited to the Jazz FM playlist. Only joking! I meant Late Junction – always in the market for a slice of finely wrought gloom. My tip for the top is the slow, hypnotic Late Night Shopping, multitracked over long synth bass notes and off-beat handclaps. Yet it conforms to many of the conventions of hit singles, with hooks, easily memorable lyrics, a last verse sung in a “radio voice” and an instrumental break apparently performed on supermarket trolleys. Plus, it comes in well under the three-minute mark. Some big star should snap it up for a cover version. You can imagine the ad campaign: “Kylie. Late Night Shopping.”
      Atsushi Fukui’s cover portrait shows the ghost of a smile hovering around the singer’s lips. Another sleeve image, like a child’s storybook illustration, shows him patiently rolling his shopping cart into a snowy forest. I don’t think he’s suffering too much – the future looks very bright for Sylvian.

JOHN L. WALTERS, July 11 2003

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Website design and build: Rebels In Control, after cover art by Chris Bigg. Art direction: David Sylvian. Banner images from the Hypergraphia book.