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David Sylvian: There Is No Love

Phil Barnes By

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David Sylvian has long divided opinion. For every passionate supporter there are half a dozen who will decry his every move as pretentious. Even among his fanbase there are many who want him to do something more to their taste, along the lines of some past triumphs like Japan's Quiet Life or Tin Drum, or solo albums including Brilliant Trees or Blemish (delete as applicable) that represent their personal favourite(s). For Sylvian the answer is, I suspect, simple: if you want to hear those records they are there for you in the catalogue; there is no need for him to repeat himself. It's a pattern that emerged with the confidence that he gained from both critical and fan acclaim for his remarkable trilogy of 1980s solo records, which enabled him to transition from uncomfortable pop star to a position of rare creative freedom.

There is No Love, a collaboration with Mark Wastell and Rhodri Davies, is unlikely to change how Sylvian is perceived, being closer to, say, the spoken word of 2014's There is a Light.... than Adolescent Sex—or even Gone to Earth. Even on supportive Facebook groups, reactions might reasonably be described as "mixed," divided between the ecstatic and complete bemusement with little middle ground. So it would be wrong to expect a rehash of old themes from this 30-minute spoken word piece premiered at London's Cafe Oto in 2015. The text that Sylvian carefully enunciates is by Bernard-Marie Koltes, and is part of a longer 1985 play, In the Solitude of Cotton Fields, featuring a dialogue between two shadowy characters: the dealer and the client. Broadly this concerns a transaction, the nature of which is hinted at but not revealed. The eerie late night setting, hints of violence ("not even the savage grapplings of man or beast at this hour...") and sex ("my melancholy virgin") add to Sylvian's tone, conspiring to suggest something illicit, hidden. The name "the dealer" suggests drugs—or a pimp perhaps; maybe even a devil harvesting souls...but nothing is explained.

It is even possible that Sylvian sees something of his relationship to the music industry in the transactional framework of Koltes' play, but whether that be as the client in relation to an industry dealer, or the dealer as artist to the client as fan is unclear. Art and commerce are and always have been tightly intertwined; for an artist to live they must find both an audience for their work and a way to reach them, leading to a series of transactions and potential compromises with the wider world. So when Sylvian speaks of the humility of the dealer approaching the client is it he who "carries a weight that he must unload on whoever comes past, be they man or beast..."—reminiscent of 1984's "Backwaters," "Trying so very hard to please...." perhaps? But ultimately the piece is so open that any number of interpretations are possible and it is easy to get carried away in fanciful analysis; the quality of the work is such that it draws you into encouraging, repeated and concentrated, listens.

Davies and Wastell are longstanding improvising partners having played with high profile Sylvian collaborators like John Tilbury, Derek Bailey and Evan Parker. Their work here is atmospheric and unsettling without distracting from the text; you can sense the musical understanding between them built over many collaborations throughout. The setup for Sylvian's entrance, for example, is excellent, building the atmosphere and tension to near the 8-minute mark, beyond which the heavily distorted spoken repetition of the title, also around the 8 minute mark. There's a surprising wealth of detail in what first appears to be electronic minimalism: the electronic hum in the opening section is tense; the tinnitus-like use of gently distorted tones that add to the pressure; or the way Wastell unsettles the music with chimes and bells, reminiscent of how the sound of clocks carry in a sparsely lit, near empty square at night. The foreboding from the concert bass drum after the "well then what weapon" at the conclusion of the spoken section is another example of how the piece draws you into its world.

If you have connected with Sylvian's music moving into the 21st century then there is a good chance that you will find this to your liking; otherwise, it is not going to change your view. While it is sad that such adventurous, literate music will not be more widely appreciated, for those who do connect with it, There is No Love is a treat—and an unqualified recommendation.

Track Listing: There is No Love.

Personnel: Rhodri Davies: lap harp, table harp, vibraphone, radio; David Sylvian: voice, vocal treatments, electronics; Mark Wastell: tam tam, cracked ride cymbal, chimes, Indian temple bells, singing bowls, metal chain, tubular bell, concert bass drum.

Title: There Is No Love | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Confront Recordings


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