RUNNING HEAD: DAVID SYLVIAN’S MUSIC SHOULD BE LISTENED TO BY MORE PEOPLE
David Sylvian’s Music Should be Listened to by more People
By: Aura Weaver
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
II. First Paragraph:
a. Attraction of Vocals
b. Rhythm and sounds of the music
c. Sample of lyrics
III. Second Paragraph: Start of Solo Career
a. New Vocal Assignment
b. New Rhythm with similar style to previous association with Japan
c. Sample of Lyrics
IV. Third Paragraph:
a. Broadened Vocal Styles though more Collaborations
b. Change of Rhythm
a. Brief Restate of Thesis
b. Decisive factor (Clincher)
Question: Why Should David Sylvian’s Music be listened to by more people?
David Sylvian’s Music Should be Listened to by more People
In modern times, music has come a long way by means of carrying messages whilst to us
defining the noise of each generation it arises from. The era of synth pop and general pop had
ended up defining music as we know it through the 80’s. David Sylvian’s music has been highly
credited with being the “father” of synth pop, as well as modern pop through his music within
the years of playing with Japan and his solo career.
Attraction of Vocals:
“From his earliest days as a post-glam in the group Japan, he had specialized in existentially
intimate songs and a quiet, but determined individualism” (Rowe, 2010). Within the time that he
spent with Japan, his vocals typically would fluctuate. When Japan had released their first album
in 1978 titled “Adolescent Sex” and “Obscure Alternatives” released by Ariola-Hansa” (Japan,
2008), there had been a lot of similarities in the vocal styles and their clothing styles. Since
David Bowie was becoming more of a prevalent artist during the time, they modeled their own
styles after his (David Bowie) and ended up acquiring a large amount of fame in Japan for their
“pin- up looks and routine rock numbers covered in a trashy glam-escent coating” (Japan, 2008).
The music at the time of their start was rather like bands such as “Blue Oyster Cult” and “Duran
Duran”, whom were already gaining much more momentum that David and the other members
of Japan had even gotten. However, at the time of those said released of their two first albums,
they were highly ignored by the public. It angers me to find that the members of such a grand,
intelligent band had been rarely heard of throughout the world.
Rhythm and Sounds of the Music:
Continuing with the rhythm of Japan’s music, many of his earlier songs had a similar vibe to
many David Bowie songs, since he was David Sylvian’s inspiration with music. When Japan
released their third album “Quiet Life” in 1979, their style of rhythm and the overall status of the
music had changed from their first two lesser known albums. Considerably, “it was a fusion of
rock and the new synthesized pop- “futurism”- and one of the most innovative records of the
year” (Cowley, 2003). Their music had taken an upright turn from their two previous albums that
were considerably terrible in sales. “Quiet Life’s” “presentation offered tremendous clarity;
Karn’s bass and David Sylvian’s voice emerge from an inky blackness” (Rigby, 2017). This
band should have had more listeners around this time, but again, they were still highly ignored
by the mass media and their country of origin, Great Britain. After the downfall of Hansa-Ariola,
Virgin Records took over Japan. It leads to their “last two studio albums- “Gentlemen Take
Polaroids” in 1980 and “Tin Drum” in 1981 which were released with the British label, and
brought them (Japan) some long- awaited success” (Berry, 2017). Despite the “success” with the
last two albums, there was also some tension within the band in 1980 that lead to one of the
members departing, and lead to Ryuichi Sakamoto becoming an ‘unofficial’ member of the band.
As Ryuichi’s influence and further collaborations with the band continued from 1980-1982
when the band would depart, “in Tin Drum, the band’s sound became increasingly more
sophisticated with blending Western electronics with traditional Far Eastern sounds, and
enhanced by Sylvian’s haunting, baritone voice” (Berry, 2017). Because of their hard work, the
album with their music recorded live, “Oil on a Canvas” became a best-seller for the band and
charted in the Top 5 in the United Kingdom. This band gained more recognition towards the end
of their time together, however they rightfully should have had more recognition earlier on. I believe that to be sound and true, due to Sylvian’s enriching voice that mixes well with Mick
Karn’s bass playing along with the sounds of the synthesizer.
Sample of Lyrics:
Within Japan’s broadened horizons of music, a song that I strongly believed that deserved the
most recognition was, “Ghosts”, which was the hit song on their final album in 1981- Tin Drum.
Reasoning behind that is because “his mournful deep-throated trills suited songs that explored
lost love” (Jones, 2008), which in turn was directly attained towards “Ghosts.” An example
from the lyrics that explains lost love:
Just when I think I’m winning, when I’ve broken every door, the ghosts of my life blow
wilder than before. Just when I think that I cannot be stopped when my chance came to
be king. The ghosts of my life blow louder than the wind (Sylvian, 1981).
This explains generally that someone is searching for their love, whom is lost. When they
believe that they have found them, things from the past arise and puts them back in the same
position again. It seems like a state of depression whenever he (Sylvian) claims that “The Ghosts
of my life blow louder than the wind” (Sylvian, 1981). It also in another perspective can be
meaning towards the loneliness that David had wanted to gain during this time. He had been
longing for the solo career that he was offered much earlier during Japan’s duration. Could
“Ghosts” have been a method of communicating in song of a longing for isolation? After the
dissolution of Japan in 1982, the members went on their own path; leading David Sylvian to
dwell on his own solo career.
Start of Solo Career: Intro to New Vocal Assignment
In 1982, David Sylvian began his solo career to release his first solo album, “Brilliant Trees”
in 1984, two years after the dissolution of Japan and start of said solo career. At this point,
Sylvian was still working on projects with the classical Japanese artists, Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Songs like “Pulling Punches” “sound a little dated, production wise” (S, 2014). However, there
was a familiar sound to music of the old as created with Japan. “With its funky, jerky bass, and
plastic keyboards, the whole thing is basically a bit of throwback to his Japan days” (S, 2014).
He had wanted his previous listeners to realize that he still had the same spunk as he had in
Japan, but greater than ever before with more methods of sound. “Ink in the Well” had also been
proven to be a grand sound for the Brilliant Trees album with “elements that are so familiar, yet
surprising” (S, 2014). He still has the same vocal style that he had while the latter days of the
band Japan. However, it is saddening that David Sylvian is still rather underappreciated by the
public due to not being well heard of by people in most countries. He had gained more of an
audience in the U.K. and other European Countries, whilst also still having the fan base in
countries like Japan thanks to the assistance of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Steve Jansen. His solo
career has meant a lot to other people, especially at the start of said solo career. “At their heart
has been the quest for self-awareness that tracks through his entire solo career, and his
motivation for writing music which is to help people refocus on the essence of their own nature
and spirit, aspects of the self that tend to get buried or ignore in daily life” (Young, 2014).
Considerably from his first few solo albums, the believe is highly in the extent of the vocals of
Brilliant Trees because of his similar, yet new style to that of what he had with the band Japan.
The vocals had been a lot alike, yet showed a sense of wonder and nostalgia. In fact, Sylvian
himself believed that Brilliant Trees was “suppose to reflect the higher level a human can attain” (Young, 2014), and his beliefs shined through superbly from the songs on Brilliant Trees such as
Pulling Punches, The Ink In The Well, and Red Guitar.
New Rhythm with similar style to previous association with Japan:
At the start of David Sylvian’s solo career with Brilliant Trees and Alchemy: An Index of
Possibilities; the rhythm and style of his music seemed to blatantly reflect that of past instances
from Japan. His brother, Steve Jansen had continued to make collaborative music with him along
with Japanese composer and pianist, Ryuichi Sakamoto. He still had “the affinity for both
Western and Far Eastern styles” (Walker, 2002) which had been present before in his some of
Japan’s early albums such as Tin Drum and Gentlemen Take Polaroids. His music was slowly
gaining more popularity as well as fame in other places abroad. Yet, it is angering that he did not
gain the popularity that he so rightfully deserved. Similar styles within his music as they had
occurred through Japan as well by means of “the interweaving of themes related to search and
discovery, existentialism, and spiritual philosophies with progressive and ambient musical
textures, while he also creates an intoxicating and heady brew” (Walker, 2002). One could see
the similarities within songs from Japan such as Cantonese Boy with the style and background
music sounds that sound as if they have strong influence from Far Eastern countries. His songs
should have been more widely known within the depths of the United Kingdom and other parts
of Europe. However, based on the new upcoming styles of his works during his solo career, it
leads to new songs that created a sense of longing and wonder. For example, look at the song
Forbidden Colours and how it managed to get into the movie, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.
The inspiration was most likely derived from past music with Japan, but also through beginning
to work more with artists like Ryuichi Sakamoto. This signaled a change within his music, or so
Sample of Lyrics:
A song that had shown decent evolution within David Sylvian’s solo career I believe is
Forbidden Colors because due to the collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto and how it was used
in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, it showed a continuous feeling that he may have had in
regards to lost love and a depressive state.
The wounds on your hands, never seem to heal. Thought all I needed was to believe.
Here am I, a lifetime away from you. The blood of Christ or the beat of my heart. My
love wears forbidden colours. My life believes. Senseless years thunder by, millions are
willing to give their lives for you. Does nothing live on? Willing to cope, with feelings
aroused in me. My hands in the soil, buried inside of myself. My love wears forbidden
colours, my love believes in you once again (Sylvian, 1983).
In regards to lost love, “My love wears Forbidden Colours, my life believes” as Sylvian sings
is leaning towards the meaning that a love is lost, its forbidden. Yet, he (Sylvian) believes in
love. In comparison to Ghosts as Sylvian made a solo cover of the song later, having do with the
past returning up on them. Both songs have a deeper concern with meanings of love, yet also
depressive states of mind.
Another song to include that I feel should be included within this manner is Jean the Birdman,
another song that Sylvian sang later within his career.
He gambles on the saddle. He’s pulling on the mane. He thrashes on the horse’s back.
Ambition is a bloody game. Horse doesn’t want to jump. The river looks too wide
Well he faces every hurdle. With a nervous state of mind. Stay with me, breathe deeply
Take three passes back. Turn and make a full attack. The gods are laughing
And they’re tugging at the reins. But he’s taken to his wings. And they hit the bank.
Heaven may stone him, but jean the birdman pulls it off. His finger’s on the trigger
His eye is on the clock. He doesn’t give the game away, and quickly fires the bullets off.
Six hearts cut short…Still dreaming they’re alive. Blown ‘round in dusty circles
Like an absent state of mind. Who hunter? who victim? God love America…He surely
doesn’t love him. Hitching out of nowhere…Lines of traffic knee deep
A chance to stave the morning off, and get some sleep. Heaven may stone him, but jean
the birdman pulls it off. He wears a crucifix…His mother left to him…It’s wrapped in
chains around his heart, rusted and wafer thin. Don’t count on luck son…All the angels
sing. Don’t need to check a weathervane. We all know what tomorrow brings…Life is a
cattle farm, Coyotes with the mules…Life is a bullring, For taking risks and flouting
rules. Who needs a safety net? The world is open wide. Just look out for card sharks, and
the danger signs. Heaven may stone him, but jean the birdman pulls it off (Sylvian,
This song has to do with finding a sense of freedom and belonging, which Sylvian at the very
time of this song’s release was when he married Ingrid Chavez, an American vocalist and
alternative musician. He broke free from depression and pain, yet when the song lyrics say, “The
God’s are all laughing and pulling on the reigns” (Sylvian, 1993). It must have to deal with the
harsh realities and struggles that David and Ingrid had to deal with at the start of their marriage
in Britain. From there, they moved to the USA to continue their lives and music careers. Still
within the late 80’s and early 90’s, David’s songs were still gaining what seemed like a small
amount of recognition, and it was disappointing in my eyes since his music evolved quickly in a short amount of time. It had gone from a dark, Bowie- inspired period- to a self-inspired period
Broadened Vocal Styles though more Collaborations:
After divorcing Ingrid Chavez in 2002, David continued with more collaborative works with
Ryuichi Sakamoto, but other artists as well. Artists like: Takagi Masakatsu, Robert Fripp, and
many others helped him gain a little more attention from people. However, he still was not
known in masse like his influence, David Bowie had been. Despite that, works that he had
worked on in the early 1990’s had “shown some scope of his musical genius” (Walker, 2002).
They had also included more things from his personal life such as photography, films, and art. It
enrages me that such a talented and well-rounded musician is still ignored or disliked by the
public, even today! As quoted by Sylvian in Walker’s article, “My most recent work is a devoid
of effects of one kind or another…” His vocals though barely had changed now, but grew more
serious and mellow, especially since Sylvian had such a concern for America. That was
especially prevalent during the start of post 9/11 when he and Sakamoto had done another
collaboration, World Citizen, and World Citizen (I Will Not be Disappointed). It raised mass
awareness towards the issues regarding the start of the War on Terror. Again, Sylvian was barely
recognized for his glorious songs. This was more prevalent within television shows and other
movies that had used his music without claiming all the rights to go to Sylvian to prevent
Change of Rhythm:
Overall, the rhythm in the collaborative projects with other artists, Sylvian’s music remained
just about the same. However, some songs did have more of a mellow rhythm than others. For
example, Jean the Birdman had a rhythm change from a melancholy, depressive ballad- to a positive motion in tone. Wave, another example, had a somber rhythm, a craving for lost love
being intact. Which it seemed to be a common theme in many of Sylvian’s songs. “With the
revamped versions of Damage and Camphor, it was the opposite with Kent and Sylvian stripping
away elements, especially various reverbs, and delays Sylvian felt sounded somewhat dated-
more appropriate to the 80’s” (Walker, 2002). He also continued work with Robert Fripp and
Steven Jansen, whom is his brother. He contributed to hundreds of Sylvian’s songs during much
of the post-Japan time. Sylvian’s music grew more mellow as a desire in his songs seemed to
show more often. He began to grow reclusive of outside society and his music was proving that
with songs like The Boy with The Gun, For the Love of Life, and especially, Orpheus.
Sample of Lyrics:
What I believe would be best suited for the main part of Sylvian’s collaborative period would
probably have to be once he had started his independent label company, Samadhisound. The
lyrics to Do You Know Me Now, seem to question if people know Sylvian himself anymore.
“And if you think you knew me then
Do you know me now?
I drew a child inside a womb
I stole the face of joy, the perfume of wealth
I atomized the boy within before he cut himself” (Sylvian ,2013).
The lyrics question if anyone knew the new David Sylvian, in turn, he had grown rather reclusive
after years of depression bouts to come back up into his life. He missed his glory days as the
lyrics show, but of course could not repeat over the time that had been lost to him aging. Instead,
he should keep moving forward. This song shows a greatened amount of his musical genius as
well, especially when he mentions making someone a bride, and making a child. Does David
Sylvian miss his family being together or does he grow tired of the reclusive lifestyle that he
Conclusion and Decisive Factor:
Overall, David Sylvian’s music is highly unrecognized and rarely credited if used for anything.
He has such a musical genius and intellect about him that is no doubt, highly undermined.
Through his music with Japan as well as his solo career, David Sylvian has been highly credited
as to being the accredited “father” of not only synth- pop, but the normal genre of pop as well.
David Sylvian’s music should hopefully gain the recognition that it rightfully deserves, and if it
does not- then what will be of it?
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