• [Review] Virginia Astley | Hope in a Darkened Heart (1986)

    2 avr. 2012, 7h59m

    Virginia Astley is a dream pop singer/songwriter from the UK. Her 4th full-length release "Hope In A Darkened Heart" (1986) is nine-track album, seven of which were produced by Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto (坂本龍一). As the title implies, the general theme is centered on introspection and the endeavor to establish resolution during times of emotional turmoil. The opening track "Some Small Hope" was written by Virginia Astley and Mr. Sakamoto, and is sang as a duet between her and former Japan vocalist David Sylvian. It comes as no surprise therefore, that her work had gained quite a bit of popularity in Japan compared to the small-scale groups of devoted listeners throughout England.

    The remainder of the album features Ms. Astley singing solo. If I had to compare her vocals to anyone, it would most likely have to be Annie Haslam, who is best known as lead singer for the English progressive rock band Renaissance. Albeit neither reaching a vocal range as high nor performing quite as powerfully, which to be fair was unlikely the intention given the nature of the material, Ms. Astley sings with the same gentle quality that Annie had for Renaissance's ballad tracks, all the while exercising just the right amount of breath control.

    In the second track "A Father", Ms. Astley expresses conflicting feelings of love and resentment towards the man who had abandoned her. She goes on state in the lyrics how a relationship is not something one is entitled to from birth, but rather it is something that develops by being present through both good days and bad. The lyrical nature of the seventh track "Love's a Lonely Place to Be" deals with the feelings of isolation one experiences when a relationship between two individuals ends, and how despite both being physically present, the emotional distance is further exacerbated by continuously putting up an evidently transparent facade that they are at ease with their situation.

    The final two tracks on the album, "A Summer Long Since Passed" and "Darkness has Reached its End" respectively, are among my favorites. The former is an alternative version of the song that was originally featured on the 1983 release "From Gardens Where We Feel Secure", and while it has no actual lyrics, Astley's vocals serve as an additional instrument nonetheless. The latter serves as a conclusion to the dark chapter narrated in the preceding songs. Reference is made to a growing child, which symbolizes of how time will continue to move forward. Furthermore, she expresses how despite having her own share of regrets in life, the hope in her heart is stronger than the pain she had experienced. Her optimism is metaphorically compared to the "light that shines from the stars".

    Although this album was a somewhat accidental discovery, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to explore it, and it is undoubtedly something I expect to revisit frequently. Ryuichi Sakamoto, who has always been known for his emotional piano pieces, creates melodies that are both suitable for the material and complementary to Ms. Astley's voice. Whether you are an avid fan of David Sylvian looking to examine yet another example out of his extensive history of collaborations, or are an individual with a profound appreciation for melancholic, introspective, and eloquent forms of self-expression, "Hope in a Darkened Heart" is certainly worth your time.
  • Music of 2011

    1 jan. 2012, 3h56m

    So-So Albums
    ANDROMEDA - Manifest Tyranny
    Burzum - Fallen
    Burzum - From The Depths Of Darkness
    The Flashbulb - Love As A Dark Hallway
    Iced Earth - Dystopia
    Max Richter - Sarah's Key (Music from the Motion Picture)
    Sota Fujimori - SYNTHESIZED3
    Sota Fujimori - Neo Contra Original Soundtrack
    Stratovarius - Elysium
    This Will Destroy You - Tunnel Blanket
    Various Artists - G5 2010

    Solid Albums
    Béla Fleck and the Flecktones - Rocket Science
    Devin Townsend Project - Ghost
    DJ Okawari - Kaleidoscope
    Grouper - A I A : Alien Observer
    Grouper - A I A : Dream Loss
    Hiromi - Voice
    KASHIWA Daisuke - 88
    Opeth - Heritage
    Oskoreien - Oskoreien
    Scar Symmetry - The Unseen Empire
    Symphony X - Iconoclast
    Tim Hecker - Dropped Pianos (EP)
    Umber - Morning's Pass EP
    Unexpect - Fables of the Sleepless Empire
    Yasunori Mitsuda (光田康典) - Myth: The Xenogears Orchestral Album

    Top 10
    10 Jóhann Jóhannsson - The Miners' Hymns
    09 Pat Metheny - What's It All About
    08 Nils Petter Molvaer - Baboon Moon
    07 Animals as Leaders - Weightless
    06 Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972
    05 Ólafur Arnalds - Living Room Songs
    04 Fennesz + Sakamoto - Flumina
    03 Circadian Eyes - Who We Were
    02 Vektor - Outer Isolation
    01 David Sylvian - died in the wool

    Still Need to Listen To
    • Amon Amarth - Surtur Rising
    • Dream Theater - A Dramatic Turn of Events
    • Harold Budd - In The Mist
    • M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
    • Nujabes - Spiritual State
    • Robin Guthrie - Emeralds
    • Sigur Rós - Inni
    • T-Square - Nine Stories
    • Thomas Feiner - 4 Tage im Mai (Music from the Motion Picture)


    While 2011 has had a lot to offer, not everything listed above necessarily reflected what I've enjoyed most over these past 12 months. The majority of the other albums I've discovered and enjoyed listening to most overall this past year range between 1970's-2000's, and so a separate personal "overall list" was compiled.

    Overall Top 20 Discoveries
    20. Stars of the Lid - And Their Refinement of the Decline (2007)
    19. Andy McKee - Art of Motion (2005)
    18. Steve Jansen - Slope (2007)
    17. Pat Metheny - One Quiet Night (2003)
    16. Nine Horses - Snow Borne Sorrow (2005)
    15. Tower of Power - Bump City (1972)
    14. John Huling - Ancestral Waters (2003)
    13. Takagi Masakatsu - Coieda (2004)
    12. Johnny Harris - All to Bring You Morning (1973)
    11. Ludovico Einaudi - Divenire (2006)
    10. Morita Doji (森田童子) - A Boy (1977)
    09. Nils Petter Molvær - Hamada (2009)
    08. Max Richter - The Blue Notebooks (2004)
    07. Iona - Beyond These Shores (1993)
    06. B.B. King - Deuces Wild (1997)
    05. Arve Henriksen - Cartography (2008)
    04. Casiopea - Full Colors (1991)
    03. Thomas Feiner & Anywhen - The Opiates (2008)
    02. Tim Janis - December Morning (1999)
    01. David Sylvian - Secrets of the Beehive (1987)

    Other Honorable Mentions (20)
    • Chet Atkins - Sails (1987)
    • Christopher Bissonnette - Periphery (2005)
    • ColdWorld - Melancholie² (2008)
    • Fennesz - Venice (2004)
    • God is An Astronaut - All Is Violent, All Is Bright (2003)
    • Ingrid Chavez - A Flutter and Some Words (2010)
    • Kreator - Hordes of Chaos (2009)
    • Frank Zappa - Apostrophe (1974)
    • Loreena McKennitt - The Book Of Secrets (1997)
    • Nordvargr - Pyrrhula (2008)
    • Pat Metheny Group - Letter from Home (1989)
    • Renaissance - Turn of the Cards (1974)
    • Sigur Rós - ( ) (2002)
    • Yes - Fragile (1972)
    • Keith Jarrett - Death and the Flower (1975)
  • [Review] David Sylvian | Blemish (2003)

    29 déc. 2011, 14h39m

    Blemish is the 6th album that English musician/poet David Sylvian has released over the course of his career as a solo artist. It has been regarded controversially by fans and critics alike both as a masterpiece and as a disappointment marked by excessive monotony and lack of creativity. The latter description is one that I would presumably expect from those that have been devout fans of past highly esteemed albums such as Secrets of the Beehive (1987) and Dead Bees on a Cake (1999), and have already formed an idea of what one should expect from him. The fact of the matter however, is that David was never the kind of person to take a commercial path with his releases and ride on the wave of past successes.

    This is actually a major reason why I've grown to respect him even more as an artist. Such evidence of his willingness to become involved with such a broad variety of music can be seen not only upon further examination of his discography over the years as a solo artist, but also of the various other projects he was involved in, such as the art rock band Japan, Rain Tree Crow, and electronic jazz trio Nine Horses. One must not also overlook his numerous collaborations, such as those with the classically trained Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto (坂本龍一) and King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp.

    The opening self-titled track is 13 minutes long and is characterized by heavy repetition of ambient soundscapes provided by Christian Fennesz, and vocals that appear far more droned than is typically expected. The lyrics themselves don't really lend themselves to as much structure and feel more improvised. This somewhat disjointed, and often cryptic quality in the writing later proves to become a recurring theme throughout the album, and taken together, may reasonably cause the listener to feel alienated from the message being communicated. Upon examination of the passages individually however, the feelings of desperation to hold onto something that was lost, the urge to give up, and the frustration of coming to grips with reality are abundantly clear.

    Tracks 2, 5, and 7 ("The Good Son", "She Is Not", and "How Little We Need To Be Happy" respectively) feature the avant-garde guitarist Derek Bailey as a guest. The sloppy improvised chord strumming exhibited throughout each of those songs is actually one of the reasons I became so turned off after my first few listens, and as a result, I neglected the album for what would be several months only to eventually revisit it in the middle of this past summer with a more open mind. Even today, as someone who has listened to Blemish in its entirety at least 50 times, I'm still marginally perplexed by this musical decision. Perhaps by some stretch it reflects increases in the narrator's escalating states of agitation. Regardless, I can still respect this experimental approach.

    The final track, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful works that David ever recorded, and that is “A Fire in the Forest”. Although the narrator still has yet to permeate the "gray skies" he is experiencing, he at least re-establishes some sort of foundation for himself. Fennesz’s ambient textures are very warm, inviting and easy to listen to. While David still conveys a sense of yearning, he assures the listener that he has at last accepted his reality, but hasn’t given up on everything. As far as trying to communicate feelings that are not exactly the easiest to be open about, all the while sustaining his authenticity and leaving enough leeway in the content for the audience to make their own speculations, Blemish is undoubtedly a sublime masterpiece in my eyes (or ears rather).