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Things We Like: David Sylvian

David Sylvian (born David Alan Batt) is an English singer-songwriter and musician. He came to prominence in the late 1970s as the lead vocalist and main songwriter in the group Japan. His subsequent solo work is described as far-ranging and esoteric, encompassing not only solo projects but also a series of fascinating collaborative efforts. Sylvian’s solo work has been influenced by a variety of musical styles and genres, including jazz, avant-garde, ambient, electronic, and progressive rock.

The band Japan, whose other members included bassist Mick Karn, guitarist Rob Dean, keyboardist Richard Barbieri and Sylvian’s brother Steve Jansen as drummer, began as a group of friends. They christened themselves Japan in 1974, and became an alternative glam rock outfit in the mold of David Bowie, T.Rex, and The New York Dolls. Over a period of a few years their music became more sophisticated, drawing on the art rock stylings of Roxy Music. The group recorded five studio albums between March 1978 and November 1981. In 1980, the band signed with Virgin Records, where Sylvian remained as a recording artist for the next twenty years.

In 1982, Sylvian released his first collaborative effort with Ryuichi Sakamoto, entitled “Bamboo Houses/Bamboo Music”. He also worked with Sakamoto on the UK Top 20 song “Forbidden Colours” for the 1983 Nagisa Oshima film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.

Sylvian’s debut solo album, Brilliant Trees (1984), met with critical acclaim. The album included contributions from Ryuichi Sakamoto, trumpeter Jon Hassell, and former Can bassist Holger Czukay. It featured the UK Top 20 single “Red Guitar.”

Secrets of the Beehive (1987) made greater use of acoustic instruments and was musically oriented towards sombre, emotive ballads laced with shimmering string arrangements by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Brian Gascoigne. The album yielded one of Sylvian’s most well-received songs, “Orpheus.”

In the early 1990s, guitarist Robert Fripp invited Sylvian to join a new version of progressive rock stalwarts King Crimson. Sylvian declined the invitation, but he and Fripp recorded the album The First Day released in July 1993. Something of a departure for Sylvian, the album melded his philosophical lyrics to funk workouts and aggressive rock stylings very much in the mold of King Crimson.

Later, Sylvian parted ways with Virgin and launched his own independent label, Samadhi Sound. He released the album Blemish. A fusion of styles, including jazz and electronica, the tour enabled Sylvian to perform music from the Nine Horses project, as well as various selections from his back catalogue.

A new solo album entitled Manafon was released on September 14th 2009, featuring contributions from saxophonist Evan Parker, multi-instrumentalist Otomo Yoshihide, Christian Fennesz, Sachiko M and AMM alumnists guitarist Keith Rowe, percussionist Eddie Prévost and pianist John Tilbury.