When UK new wavers Japan broke up in 1982, the members predictably splintered off into various directions, and the highest profiles belonged to Mick Karn and David Sylvian. Over the decades the latter has amassed a solo and collaborative discography of unlikely reach and impressiveness; however, giving a fresh listen to ‘84’s Brilliant Trees makes abundantly clear Sylvian’s career trajectory isn’t as surprising as it might initially seem.
Upon consideration, very few musicians who made their name in the pop sphere have aged as well as David Sylvian. Of course, this is mainly due to his choice after Japan’s dissolution (they briefly reunited for one self-titled ’91 album under the name Rain Tree Crow) to gradually leave the milieu that fostered his initial reputation. The subsequent journey led him into the outlying territories of experimentation and the avant-garde, though this shouldn’t give the false impression that Sylvian’s post-Japan oeuvre is devoid of pop elements.
As a youngster of the ‘80s, I knew little of Japan, my discovery of Sylvian supplied by his ’87 collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Secrets of the Beehive. The introduction was made through the frequent play and promotion of said disc by my hometown Mom & Pop record mart, an enterprise also involved in the sale of high end stereo equipment.
To my teen mind any system comprised of separate components was high end, and at the time Secrets of the Beehive basically eluded me, as did much “deep-listening” material attached to ambient, new age, minimalism, art-pop etc. Reengaging with Sylvian as a mature adult provided, if not an epiphany than another instance aiding the realization that artistic assessments work in tandem with personal growth, therefore flouting finality.