Somnambule - Writing About Music

David Sylvian ~ The Good Son vs The Only Daughter

There’s a cumulative gravity to David Sylvian’s oeuvre that‘s become increasingly hard to ignore. After more than 25 years, rather than allow his music to ossify into mannerism or blandness, Blemish (2003) revealed a pared down sound and a voice placed nakedly centre stage. The intimacy of those vocals – it seemed at times as if one might feel his breath on one’s ear - suggested that the singer’s distress really might be located in the listener’s heart. The timbre of that voice hinted at compacted layers of feeling, of something deeper than mere performance. The Good Son vs The Only Daughter offers nine remixes by a variety of leftfield artists including Ryoji Ikeda, Burnt Friedman and Akira Rabelais. Contrary to critical expectation, the remix with its structuralist undertow has arguably reaped relatively meager dividends. This collection proves to be a rare exception. Sylvian’s vocals are preserved but set within beautifully filigreed settings, like a rare gem set by expert silversmiths. That’s not to say that the result is overly precious, there are some heartening signs of playfulness – not least Burnt Friedman’s interpretation of Late Night Shopping which adumbrates the chorus with an answerphone tone that’s both enjoyably teasing and emphasises the absence and heartache of fractured relationships. Sylvian’s lyrical concerns are sometimes like fragments isolated from a larger puzzle. The nature of his symbolism recalls director Andrei Tarkovsky’s response to questions about his film Mirror: “... the image is like a clot of life... [Mirror] doesn’t have to be made any more understandable.” However, when Sylvian sings that “And the mind’s divisive, but the heart knows better” it’s difficult not to conclude that he’s emphasising the importance of intuition over easy assimilation via the intellect. Sylvian’s music, alongside Bjork’s recent output serves as a reminder of our still undiminished humanity by focusing convincingly upon both border territories and our everyday experiences. The Good Son vs The Only Daughter serves generously as a more widely-travelled sibling to Blemish.
Colin Buttimer
April 2005
Published by Signal To Noise magazine