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David Sylvian (born David Alan Batt, 23 February 1958) is an English musician who may be best known for appearing in the New Romantic / Glam Rock band Japan in the late '70s to the early '80s. After inner tensions between band members led to a falling out, Sylvian pursued a solo career, crafting music that was more mature and artsier than his previous work. He has since gained a respectable cult following. Sylvian has also dabbled in poetry, visual art and photography. He has been photographed by Anton Corbijn (who also produced some of his music videos), and has collaborated with Ryuichi Sakamoto (more closely in his solo material) and with King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp (their efforts combined produced two albums in the early to mid '90s). Sylvian was married to Prince protégé Ingrid Chavez from 1992 until 2003. Throughout his career, both in Japan and solo, he has relied on his brother Steve Jansen (né Stephen Batt) as a percussionist.

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His solo works represent an artistic evolution, as Sylvian proceeded to dispose of the flamboyancy, get a hair cut, and adopt more Baroque, Chamber and Jazz influences that slowly began to resemble the latter-day, sophisticated Art Pop works of artists like Peter Gabriel or Talk Talk (with a little bit of Avalon-era Roxy Music thrown in for good measure.) This is particularly present in 1984's Brilliant Trees; but he took an even more stripped-down approach in 1987's Secrets of the Beehive, which extracted the electronics from that album and the soundscapey Alchemy and Gone to Earth and replaced them with lush string, violin and piano arrangements. After some experimental collaborations and a twelve year (!) wait, he made a solo comeback in 1999 in the form of Dead Bees on a Cake, which took a slightly darker, more Ambient and adult contemporary approach to his classic pop leanings. His sound palette would mutate again with 2003's Blemish, which removed everything but his harmonized voice, avant garde guitar playing and glitching electronic drones; this new style would be mined and expanded on Sylvian's subsequent albums.

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David takes a very serious crafting approach to music, but it's always all-around artsy. He's also known for being a bit of... a hermit. Don't expect him to come out of hiding unless it's for something important.

Discography:

Studio Albums:

  • Brilliant Trees (1984)
  • Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities (1985; EP expanded to full album in 1989)
  • Gone to Earth (1986)
  • Secrets of the Beehive (1987)
  • Plight & Premonition (with Holger Czukay, 1988)
  • Flux & Mutability (with Holger Czukay, 1989)
  • The First Day (with Robert Fripp, 1993)
  • Dead Bees on a Cake (1999)
  • Blemish (2003)
  • Snow Borne Sorrow (as member of band Nine Horses, 2005)
  • When Loud Weather Buffeted Naoshima (2007)
  • Manafon (2009)
  • Wandermüde (with Stephan Mathieu, 2012)
  • There's a Light That Enters Houses with No Other House in Sight (with poet Franz Wright, 2014)

Compilations:

  • Weatherbox (1989; Boxed Set containing Sylvian's first four solo albums)
  • Approaching Silence (1999; compilation of previously issued soundscapes for art shows)
  • Everything and Nothing (2000; compilation of outtakes and rarities)
  • Sleepwalkers (2010; compilation of post-Virgin Records collaborations; reissued in 2022 with a revised tracklist)
  • A Victim of Stars 1982-2012 (2012; Greatest Hits Album)

Tropes:

  • Alternate Album Cover:
    • The original release of Brilliant Trees featured a photograph of Sylvian in the woods, bordered by a yellow marble texture. When the album was belatedly released in the US in 1994, the border was removed and the photo was resized and re-cropped to put Sylvian closer to the center of the image. The 2003 remasters would change this again by using the uncropped version of the photo, with Sylvian once again being on the right side of the image, with this configuration becoming standard for later releases.
    • Because the original master artwork for the albums was lost, the 2018 reissues of Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities and Gone to Earth feature new covers made from various photoshoots done at the time, with the former now depicting Sylvian overlooking the view atop a hill and the latter depicting him sitting in the back seat of a car. Likewise, the expanded reissue of Dead Bees on a Cake for Record Store Day 2018 featured a new cover depicting a headshot of Sylvian circa 1999; a grayscale version of the original artwork is featured on the inner sleeve for disc one.
  • Book Ends: The music video for "Silver Moon" opens with Sylvian removing his hands from atop the camera lens. The video closes with him placing his hands back over the lens.
  • Boxed Set: Weatherbox, a CD set containing Brilliant Trees, a slightly expanded version of Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities, Gone to Earth, and Secrets of the Beehive (without the re-recorded "Forbidden Colours"). The set marked the first time that the unabridged version of Gone to Earth was available on CD outside of Japan, with previous western CD releases removing four tracks to fit the album on one disc.
  • Break Up Song: Blemish is a break-up album, with Sylvian meditating on his feelings over his divorce from Ingrid Chavez. "The only daughter" is probably the most break-upy song on the album, with a chorus of "This, your one and only warning / Please be gone by morning"
  • Compilation Rerelease: In 2018, the Holger Czukay collaborations Plight & Premonition and Flux & Mutability were reissued together as a two-disc package.
  • Cover Version: With Japan, he covered "Don't Rain on My Parade" by Barbra Streisand, "All Tomorrow's Parties" by The Velvet Underground, "I Second That Emotion" by The Miracles and "Ain't That Peculiar" by Marvin Gaye. Early on, the band often performed a cover of The Rolling Stones' "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)" live and recorded an unreleased studio demo of it, as well as recorded unreleased cover versions of Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs," Bob Marley and the Wailers' "I Shot the Sheriff," The Isley Brothers' "This Old Heart of Mine," and an unreleased Chic cover believed to be "Le Freak."
  • Digital Destruction: Due to an indexing error, A Victim of Stars 1982-2012 sees the first split-second of "Forbidden Colours (Version)" play at the end of "Bamboo Music".
  • Distinct Double Album: The first disc of Gone to Earth is comprised of vocal pieces and the second is entirely made up of ambient instrumental pieces.
  • Domestic Abuse: "When Poets Dreamed of Angels":
    She rises early from bed
    Runs to the mirror
    The bruises inflicted in moments of fury
    He kneels beside her once more
    Whispers a promise
    "Next time I'll break every bone in your body"
  • Epic Rocking:
    • When Loud Weather Buffeted Naoshima consists of a single 70:23 track.
    • There's a Light That Enters Houses with No Other House in Sight consists of a single hour-long track.
  • Face on the Cover: Surprisingly, for such an attractive rocker, Sylvian kept himself off of the majority of his album covers. His debut Brilliant Trees features a wide shot with him from the torso up in profile, while Blemish features an illustration of his headshot. Played straight with the remastered reissues of his pre-2000 albums in the 2010s, as the original artwork for the albums were lost and therefore press photos had to be used.
  • Foreign Culture Fetish: He went in for Japanese culture in a big way, appropriately enough for someone in a band named Japan. He frequently collaborated with Ryuichi Sakamoto, sang with Akiko Yano, and was in a relationship with a Japanese photographer named Yuka Fujii, who shot many of his cover photos.
  • Greatest Hits Album: After releasing three collections showcasing unreleased songs, instrumentals and collaborations, Sylvian finally released a greatest hits, A Victim of Stars, in 2012. Tellingly, it begins with "Ghosts" from the final Japan album, Tin Drum.
  • Green Aesop: "World Citizen — I Won't Be Disappointed" is a Protest Song about the continuing issue of pollution and the grave consequences it holds if it continues progressing at its current rate.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming:
    • Weatherbox names each of its discs "Tree", "Stone", "Earth", "Water", and "Light".
    • Everything and Nothing labels its two CDs "E" and "N," matching the compilation title.
  • Later-Installment Weirdness: Carrying off of his work with Japan, the bulk of Sylvian's solo output consisted of jazzy, ambient-influenced art pop until his divorce from Ingrid Chavez in 2003, after which he shifted towards improvisational Avant-Garde Music, with his singing voice concurrently shifting from a New Romantic croon to a more gravelly style.
  • Limited Lyrics Song: The lyrics to the Ryuichi Sakamoto collaboration "Bamboo Houses" consists of a single verse, recited in Japanese and sung in English.
  • Longest Song Goes First:
    • Dead Bees on a Cake opens with the nine-and-a-half-minute "I Surrender"; the second-longest track on the album just barely cracks eight minutes.
    • Blemish kicks off with the 13:42 Title Track, the only song on the album to surpass eight minutes.
  • Longest Song Goes Last:
    • Brilliant Trees ends with the 8:39 Title Track, the only Epic Rocking song on the entire album.
    • Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities closes out with the nearly nineteen-minute "Steel Cathedrals"; no other song on the album spans long enough to reach Epic Rocking status.
  • Long-Haired Pretty Boy: The premier example of the New Romantic genre during his time in Japan.
  • Match Cut: Used extensively throughout the music video for "Forbidden Colours", in which shots of Sylvian posing fade into shots of characters from Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence in identical positions (and vice-versa).
  • Multilingual Song: "Bamboo Houses" consists of a single verse recited in Japanese by Ryuichi Sakamoto and sung in English by Sylvian.
  • New Sound Album: All of them, but the two that are particularly worth mentioning are the Japan album Quiet Life, in which he shows off his deeper voice, ballad and Asian influences for the first time; his solo debut Brilliant Trees, where he expressed his full sonic vision for the first time; and the solo album Blemish, which began his current experimental career.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Sylvian spent a lot of time in the 1980s scoring art shows, films and dance pieces that he was also involved in. When Loud Weather Buffeted Naoshima was additionally created as the soundtrack to an exhibit at the Naoshima Fukutake Art Museum Foundation before seeing a commercial release.
  • Protest Song: Both "World Citizen — I Won't Be Disappointed" and "World Citizen" are commentaries on the state of the world in 2003, with the former specifically focusing on pollution and the latter focusing on government corruption and societal apathy.
  • Rearrange the Song:
    • The single release of "Red Guitar" included an orchestral re-recording of the Ryuichi Sakamoto collaboration "Forbidden Colours" as a B-side; it would later be featured on the original CD release of Secrets of the Beehive and on the Greatest Hits Album A Victim of Stars: 1982-2012.
    • The 2000 compilation Everything and Nothing includes a new version of Japan's "Ghosts" that sees Sylvian performing a new vocal part atop the original instrumental. This remix is also included on A Victim of Stars 1982-2012.
  • Re-Cut:
    • The CD release of Gone to Earth removes the tracks "Silver Moon Over Sleeping Steeples", "Camp Fire: Coyote Country", "A Bird of Prey Vanishes into a Bright Blue Cloudless Sky" and "Sunlight Seen Through Towering Trees" in order to fit the double-LP album onto one disc. Japanese CDs since 1988 would restore the full-length version across two discs, with this configuration being followed by both the 1989 Boxed Set Weatherbox and the 2003 remaster.
    • The Weatherbox Boxed Set removes "Preparations for a Journey" and "Forbidden Colours (Version)" from Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities and Secrets of the Beehive, respectively.
    • The 1994 US release of Brilliant Trees adds on the "Words with the Shaman" trilogy from Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities as bonus tracks, mainly because the latter album was not available on CD outside of Japan at the time.
    • With the sole exception of Brilliant Trees, the 2003 remasters of Sylvian's '80s albums add in bonus tracks for almost every release:
      • Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities adds in "The Stigma of Childhood (Kin)" and "A Brief Conversation Ending in Divorce".
      • Gone to Earth shortens the intro to "Before the Bullfight" and appends remixes of "River Man", the Title Track, and "Camp Fire: Coyote Country" to the end of disc one.
      • Secrets of the Beehive swaps out "Forbidden Colours (Version)" for "Promise (The Cult of Eurydice)".
    • The double-LP reissue of Dead Bees on a Cake, put out for Record Store Day 2018, adds in the Everything and Nothing tracks "The Scent of Magnolia", "Cover Me With Flowers", "Albuquerque (Dobro #6)", and "Aparna and Nimisha (Dobro # 5)", all of which were recorded during the Dead Bees on a Cake sessions and considered for inclusion back in 1999. Several of the other 14 tracks are also rearranged.
    • The 2022 reissue of the 2010 collaborations compilation Sleepwalkers drops "Ballad of a Deadman" and "Playground Martyrs" while adding "World Citizen", "Do You Know Me Now?", and "Modern Interior".
  • Special Guest: King Crimson guitarist/bandleader Robert Fripp appears as a session guitarist throughout Gone to Earth; Sylvian would return the favor via the collaborative album The First Day.
  • Surreal Music Video: His work with Anton Corbijn.
  • Video Full of Film Clips: The music video for "Forbidden Colours" intersperses clips from Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence with footage of Sylvian miming under a spotlight.
  • White Void Room: The music video for "Bamboo Houses" (his first of many collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto) is set in one, interspersed with a number of video effects.

 
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Video Example(s):

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"Silver Moon" by David Sylvian

The music video for David Sylvian's "Silver Moon" opens with Sylvian removing his hands from the camera lens and moving offscreen as the picture shifts from black and white to full color. The video ends with the color fading back out as Sylvian enters the frame and puts his hands over the lens. Both shots even occur in the exact same location, to boot.

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