David Sylvian – Secrets of the Beehive – 4.5/5
This is one release that has had my attention for a long time. Released in the late 80s, this emotion-laden piece of avant-garde plays like nothing you would associate with other acts in the genre; like a marriage of ‘Green Carnation’ and ‘King Crimson’ (the latter of which he was asked to join in the early 90s), this acoustic combination of folk, jazz, ambient and prog rock plays like a collection of simple yet powerfully themed tracks. Graceful strings resonating behind gentle trumpet harmonies and the ever present neo-classical piano work, leading into the vocals themselves, soothingly he caresses each word, letting the carefully chosen lyrics speak for themselves.
At no point does the music become too obtrusive, it never seeks the attention of the listener like a child begging for approval, the melancholic vocals drained of raw power but not of their elegant despair, content to drift into the background with a haunting atmosphere provided by the immaculately conceived variety of backing instruments. Worked so as to meander with an odd coherency, slowly evolving between the cornucopia of influences, always to provide a very nature-inspired rooted and realistic feel far from the influences of electronics that provides a bittersweet warmth to the icy atmosphere, the cold despair given the briefest glimmer of hope amidst the lavish production.
Minimalist drumming plays for maximum effect loud and clear in the production, and yet are rarely heard out of choice, allowing plenty of room for the other instrumentation to weave their course; the acoustic guitar and piano the mainstay of his hypnotic rhythms, alternating between tracks they create constantly meandering passages that provides a consistency despite their progressive nature, never quite repeating themselves in the fluid manner they explore the breadth of sounds at hand. Frequently complemented by classical strings in the background to create an altogether more organic, full tone that defies the need for artificial keyboards, completing the line-up are multiple short contributions from other musicians creating a seemingly endless source of variety.
And yet for all the variety, it never loses sight of that atmospheric intention, the desire to portray a sense of overbearing darkness and despair, encapsulating the listener like an ominous shroud of mist going over a black lake. This is avant-garde for convenience sake, only when trying to think of comparisons do you realise that nothing is quite alike to this, and yet it never comes of as forced, rolling out of the speakers more fluidly and naturally fitting than many other contemporary musicians. Perhaps best compared to the aforementioned acoustic Green Carnation, Ambeon gone Jazz, a Diablo Swing Orchestra/Carved in Stone cross or Motohiro Nakashima with vocals, none quite convey the sense of beauty in this deceptively simple piece that offers much to be cherished.
Highlights: The Boy with a Gun, Orpheus, When the Poets Dreamed of Angels, Waterfront
Over the years this has grown into my own personal project, reviewing the artists that I discover and interest me. If you wish to see more of my work, particularly my more metal-orientated material, you can find me as a regular contributor for the online magazine
Posted by T. Bawden Monday, 7 December 2009