Today’s desert island disc: David Sylvian & Robert Fripp, The First Day

Sylvian and Fripp
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Incredibly, this CD is out of print, and even Amazon only seems to have sketchy availability through zShops. So I can’t even provide a reliable “buy” link. David Sylvian is the former lead singer and songwriter of Japan. Robert Fripp is the mastermind behind King Crimson. Sylvian is known for his introspective, spiritual, seeking lyrics and self-effacing music-making. Fripp was exploring a more industrial style in the early/mid 1990s. Together, they made one of the most remarkable rock records I know.

Using elements of funk, industrial music, noise and combining Fripp’s angular guitars with a deep, rumbling, sharp, melodious Chapman Grand Stick played by Trey Gunn, this is both enlightened meditation and purely enjoyable music, like a jam band with a spiritual purpose. Sylvian, often seen primarily as a singer/songwriter, should not be under-estimated as a musician/composer, and much of what’s heard here is the interplay of a band. For me, it’s definitely guitar-dominated, but Gunn’s Stick is also instrumental in defining the sound here; this record is a precursor to the subsequent next incarnation of King Crimson, also featuring Gunn from about 1994 onwards.

Find the ladder | Climb the ladder | To God’s Monkey […] Can’t breathe the air | It’s too thin | This far from heaven | This far from heaven

Sylvian writes introspective, mysterious, strange, often darkly funny lyrics. His voice, low like the best British male singers (think Bryan Ferry, Curt Smith of Tears for Fears or Mark Hollis of Talk Talk) is calm, clear, articulate, authoritative. This is a kind of post-rock: if you know Sylvian’s and Fripp’s histories, it’s clear that this record is post everything: neither rock nor ironic retro; rather, the culmination of a long journey through pop, rock, noise, song structure, vocals, instrumentals, improvisation – in short, a clearly articulated and conscious decision, “this is what we can offer you now.” It’s an authentic statement, uncompromising in many ways, not of its time, but also playful because of the songs, often great songs with smart lyrics and memorable melodies, and the impeccable musicianship. Nothing here is left to chance, not the writing, nor the arranging or playing.

Like Fripp’s work with Crimson and Sylvian’s solo work, there are several very long pieces here. ‘Firepower,’ ’20th Century Dreaming’ and ‘Darshan’ each run more than 10 minutes. Like an industrial jam band of sorts, they bring enlightenment through repetition, a very Eastern-religion concept. 5 minutes into Darshan’s 17 minutes, you realize it’s put you on another plane, that the music floats you like a good DJ mix, and while it’s primarily rhythm, there’s enough audio interest to keep you listening. Like other music meant to induce a trance (and I’m not using the word here to denote the dance genre but in a more basic, ritualistic sense), Darshan manages to make you feel like the warm envelope of a blanket is being pulled from you when it ends. And, somehow, you’re left out in the cold, robbed of Fripp’s intense soloing and Sylvian’s increasingly evolved, odd and challenging synth pad harmonies.

Fitting, then, that it should end with a slow, ambient number that’s all Sylvian’s keyboards. Orchestral, calm, pastoral, like early Aphex Twin or The KLF’s best work.

If you can’t find The First Day anywhere, Sylvian’s two-disc retrospective Everything And Nothing (also discontinued, but more readily available) has some of the songs and is, without question, worth getting:

Sylvian Everything and Nothing
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1 thought on “Today’s desert island disc: David Sylvian & Robert Fripp, The First Day”

  1. Good call! This came as something of a shock to fans of both Fripp and Sylvian but it’s really stood the test of time well.

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