David Sylvian: The Good Son vs. The Only Daughter

In his post-Japan career, David Sylvian has shown imaginative and generally unerring taste in his choice of collaborators (many of them guitarists): Robert Fripp (The First Day), Ryuichi Sakamoto (Secrets Of The Beehive), Bill Frisell (Dead Bees On A Cake), and most recently Derek Bailey and Christian Fennesz (Blemish). The Good Son vs. The Only Daughter proves that that talent has by no means deserted him. It's not new material, mind you, but rather a daring set of Blemish remixes by the likes of Ryoji Ikeda, Burnt Friedman, and Akira Rabelais. It's an interesting project on many levels. First of all, as the originating compositions were created from studio improvisations for vocals, guitars, and electronics, the music's spacious elasticity makes the interpretive process less straightforward and likely more challenging; at the same time, the minimalism of the original settings accommodates such a broad latitude of approaches that the remixers are liberated from constraining structures.

Yet, despite the re-worked songs' differences, the album ultimately sounds more cohesive than not, an outcome naturally attributable to Sylvian's vocal presence. In fact, his voice is mixed so high, every quiver in his vibrato is captured and every nuance heard. Secondly, his voice, while not a soloing instrument per se, is undoubtedly the lead, with the accompanying instruments tailoring their playing in obbligato fashion to his vocal lines (an approach clearly heard in Tatsuhiko Asano's lush acoustic-jazz handling of “How Little We Need To Be Happy” where the backing trails the vocal, responding to its every move).

Some contributors shed their established stylistic personae for interpretations that are as fresh as they are unpredictable. One might have expected Ikeda's take on “The Only Daughter,” for instance, to be a cerebral electronic excursion; instead, he situates Sylvian's dramatic utterance within a chamber classical setting (a sextet with Ikeda on piano) that is, at some moments, impressionistic and others vaguely expressionistic; Sylvian's musing baritone feels incantatory in this stream-of-consciousness-like setting. Similarly, the dub treatments one anticipates from Friedman don't materialize; instead, he devises floating webs to underlay Sylvian, with Hayden Chisholm's delicate clarinet adding a faint jazzy feel to Friedman's “Blemish.”

Incidentally, “The Only Daughter” and “Blemish” both receive two remix treatments but, rather than seeming redundant, the duplication allows for fascinating analysis. In the version of “The Only Daughter” by Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, electronics and the muted smears of Nils Petter Molvaer's trumpet add atmospheric colour while Akira Rabelais' 10-minute “Blemish” meditation becomes a rich exercise in shuddering electronics and drone textures. In an especially beautiful rendering of “A Fire In The Forest,” Readymade FC (Jean-Philippe Verdin) creates an unusual backing that recalls the Björk-Matmos collaborations of Vespertine. Delicate harp and music box sounds glimmer alongside scrunchy percussion patterns while a weeping violin figure adds a poignant dimension.

In all likelihood, not every interpretation will satisfy every listener. Though electronic bass pulses and Rhodes create an effective restrained base for the vocal in Yoshiro Hanno's “The Good Son,” for instance, the jagged guitar musings sound dropped in from a different song (no doubt the intended effect of Derek Bailey's original guitar improv). Regardless, The Good Son vs. The Only Daughter is a radical re-invention and re-imagining—exactly what a remix project should be. How incredibly far Sylvian has traveled since the Japan era of Tin Drum.

August 2005