David Sylvian and Robert Fripp - The First Day
- 4'58 God's Monkey (Sylvian, Fripp, Gunn, Bottrill)
- 4'09 Jean The Birdman (Sylvian, Fripp, Gunn)
- 10'25 Firepower (Sylvian, Fripp, Gunn) => Reviews
- 6'05 Brightness Falls (Sylvian, Fripp, Gunn)
- 11'50 20th Century Dreaming (a shaman's song) (Sylvian, Fripp, Gunn)
- 17'17 Darshan (the road to graceland) (Sylvian, Fripp, Gunn, Bottrill)
- 8'31 Bringing Down The Light (Fripp)
Reviews are listed in chronological order within each section. Please retain a chronological order when adding new reviews.
Date Submitted: Unknown
By: Sandy Santra (trevor at netcom dot com)
"This is a first-class production, right from the word go. A lot of time and effort obviously went into this release. Sylvian and Fripp have never sounded better or more relaxed, IMHO. Surely the amazing way in which their respective creative skills dovetail together here must have something to do with it.
"They make an incredible team. Fripp's edginess and intensity are the perfect foil for muting Sylvian's often overly-indulgent wistful melancholia, and conversely Sylvian's laid-back vocal sensibility opens up enough psychic space that Fripp doesn't have to bludgeon his way through the mix in order to get heard over a otoo-forceful front man personality (yes, you, Belew!), completely exhausting his listeners in the process. The result is a subtle alchemical melding of a variety of sonic textures, harmonic layers, and rhythmic structures (which you'll need a pair of headphones to fully appreciate).
"The pictures in the booklet (and on the postcards included with the British release) are clear evidence that these people are having a great time, even when travelling uncharted, sometimes disturbing waters. They alternate between looking ecstatic, dreamy, disturbed, mysterious, and at times even patently normal. Their guises change like masks in a puppet play. Sylvian looks like Robert Plant in one picture, David Gilmour on his first solo album in another, and in one picture like the star of the new film Orlando (a paean to androgyny). Fripp is actually smiling! Laughing! Trey looks like he's carefully hanging in there, hoping not to disturb the delicately engineered balance. (Every storm has a dead center.)
"Although it may initially seem that there are too many familiar elements in this music--a Gabriel-like harmonic compositional structure driving the opening shorter tracks, the "Fripp does Hendrix" slow blues "Schizoid"-like intensity of the riff-driven "Brightness Falls," and the obvious nod to ENO's Ambient recordings during the Frippertronic-based closing number--the inventiveness of the music eventually reaches a critical mass which blows away any arguments that it might be overly derivative. Prog fans familiar with the history of these musicians will of course be alert to the cues taken from different Crimson releases, Fripp's Exposure album, and the vast alternative-ambient-metal-funk-techno territory which Eno, Fripp, Sylvian, Talking Heads, and Jon Hassell (among countless others) have pioneered, but this work is fresh and unusual enough to stand on its own two feet (while still remaining eminently listenable, unlike many obscure experimentalist Euro-prog projects which I have regrettably wasted good money on). The musical signposts may sound familiar, but they have been so displaced, rearranged and appended to that for the first time since Discipline I am actually excited about a Fripp release.
"We have seven songs here--what one might expect from a Thomas Dolby album. But unlike the usual "alternative" fare this CD runs over an hour. (The inclusion of a few five-minute numbers offers the obvious advantage of three songs passing the ten- minute mark, one nearly the twenty.) There is a deliberate pacing and resolution at work in the ordering of the songs. The music may start out on the solid and reassuring (and some might say too predictable) ground of simple Belew-esque song formulas, but it soon metamorphoses into a string of substantial compositions which are diverse enough to avoid numbing sameness, yet stretched-out enough to allow not only the interpolation of Frippertronics sections but in addition a--gasp!--acid house selection that puts the Orb and its ilk to shame.
"The spiritual center of the album is literally its real-time center: about halfway through the CD, which happens also to be about halfway through the song "20th Century Dreaming," the music slips into a trance which I believe offers the first serious challenge (aside from some of Klaus Schulze's work) to the magnificently mindbending "seagull" section of Floyd's "Echoes." It is a "Shaman's Song," indeed.
"How do they get there? Well, after Sylvian's opening three- minute "prelude" (which I believe contains some definite literary allusions to the original "21st Century Schizoid Man," as well as an image of the Internet!), there comes a single minute of synthesizer washes, cowbell accents, and a reductionistic theme- and-variations solo by Fripp (whose calculatedly twisted permutations sound like Bach hotwired to a runaway batch file). This may initially seem like very tame territory--particularly the obvious expectation proffered that Fripp's solo will "go somewhere"--but the real function of this limbo is that it's a psychological setup for what follows. The temporarily distracting bridge ushers in a vague haze of otherworldly sounds which eventually build definition in the music by *subtracting* elements rather than adding them.
"It's quite a sleight-of-hand. First comes the death-mutter of a Sylvian vocal sample, a disassembling of drums, and the searing shreds of Frippertronics feedback (barely bordering on melody), then torture-chamber pinpricks of synthesizer pitch, strange mutterings just underneath all the *other* layers, and the subtlety of occasional percussion effects. The process expands until the track sounds like a natural landscape--albeit one on a planet 50 million light years away. There's more to this "river" of sound...but I'd rather not spoil too much of the mystique and intrigue of the ensuing journey.
"Just as "20th Century Dreaming" offers structural surprises that come as an unexpected delight, so the rest of the album follows. Sylvian and Fripp have found a way to work around each other's limitations in a refreshing way that almost guarantees against boredom. Just when a song sounds like it's starting to get trapped by a static Sylvian chord progression, Fripp comes in with a solo, a heavy-duty riff appears out of nowhere, or the song opens up into a completely unstructured vehicle carrying the kind of incredible sonic experimentation which we used to have to depend on killer Crimson bootleg tapes for (until The Great Deceiver came out). So in a sense, yes, Fripp "saves" Sylvian on more than one occasion; yet it cannot be denied that Sylvian himself forestalls Fripp's own horrific indulgences, for the likes of the grating extremities that Exposure subjected us to we are thankfully spared on this release.
"Perhaps the biggest surprise is the cut "Darshan," which features our two collaborators beating acid-house musicians probably half their age at their own game. Believe me, I have listened to plenty of house music, and sure, I sometimes get excited by it when it comes on a car radio; but when I get a tape of something home and "try it on," I am soon disappointed. (The only really cool CD I've heard is KLF's nod to ENO, "Chill Out," which amazingly features Nick Mason and some samplings from Fleetwood Mac's amazing Then Play On.)
"Darshan" comes on like a Borg assault of techno tsunami. It's a dense, thick, rich brew--and it's good. Probably because we're not used to hearing real instruments played by real musicians in this genre. No damn drum machine making you think you're enduring water torture! No lame Hammond organ played by some neophyte who's never heard of Keith Emerson! You can tell your friends not to worry, Fripp is in the house. OK, so the meter is slowed down from the standard house 132 to 114 (perhaps as a concession to us "oldsters"). Big deal. Might as well relax while you're getting your mind fried by every sort of Fripp guitar attack imaginable.
"I have mixed emotions about the packaging. If you are a dedicated collector and have a few extra bucks, it's probably worth it to get the British pressing. It's got the same orange motif that graced Bowie's Low and includes a handsome collection of additional artwork (photographs on postcards). But the large, cumbersome box is kind of a pain."
Date Submitted: 13-Jul-93
By: Gregory Taylor (gtaylor at heurikon dot com)
"The early spring of 1992 saw David Sylvian and Robert Fripp playing a limited number of engagements in Tokyo, accompanied only by one of Fripp's Stick playing Crafty stalwarts Trey Gunn. As the non-presence of a percussionist might suggest for these dates, the recordings from the minitour suggested a somewhat predictable batch of instrumentals anchored by Fripp's looped guitars, Sylvian's washes of keyboard, and the occasional bit of wistful vocals. What *was* a bit of a surprise was the extent to which Sylvian used the presence of Fripp/Gunn's noisier instincts to get a bit grimy now and then, opting for forms which came across almost as conversational and bluesy. The softer instrumental material was very much as you'd expect from the "Steel Cathedrals" - era F/S collaborations. While that material seemed to dominate the recordings I heard, the "Grunge Dave" stuff was unexpected and interesting to me, in part because one never associates that sort of work with Sylvian's sensibilities as a more mature artist [one can, of course, burrow back into the old Japan catalog for ample evidence of that during the days when Japan was [opine here] a second-bench bunch of roxybowy clones]. One edges around it in "Pulling Punches", flirts with it in the title track from "Gone to Earth", and so forth. But on balance, I found myself thinking that perhaps it was just as well that Fripp hadn't called upon the steady but unimaginatively unswinging stuff on the drums that he had come up with for "Sunday All Over the World."
"Then the rumours started up about Sylvian singing with a reformed King Crimson, Sylvian working in Minneapolis with Steve Tibbets, and so forth.
"The First Day" is the result of what the buzzes were all about, and I'm absolutely delighted at the extent to which both my expectations were fulfilled and the extent to which they were modified. The occasional moment of real fun (such as opening the jewel box and deciding that the glowering Sylvian inside looked like no-one else so much as Gregg Allman with the goatee shaved off and a dye job). Augmented with Steve Tibbett's pal Marc Anderson [at least I think this is the guy from MacAlister that I knew, right?] and sometime Gabriel sideman/producer David Bottril, this disc includes some of the most serious "get down" action from either Mr. Sylvian and Mr. Fripp in some time. Jerry Marotta swings furiously all the way through, whether handling the house/funk grooves that anchor "Brightness Falls" or "Darshan" (we hear some commendable Ingrid Chavez dancefloor influence here, I think) or playing the somewhat more predictable Crimhead "meters with numerators over 8" rhythms of "Firepower" or "20th Century Dreaming".
"Mr. Fripp cranks up and provides us with some of the strangliest raging beast with a wahwah stuck in its throat since Heaven only knows when ("Red" perhaps?), and the Frippertronics (perhaps under the engineer's hand) are ah, tastefully applied - along with Mr. Sylvian's usual bed of atmosphere and loops that have been all over his more ambient outings of late. In this case, they function more as the noisy crosstalk of the modern world than the drenched landscapes of the lake country so favored by the poets. Sylvian, in obvious deference to the temperature of the proceedings and with a possible eye toward suggesting a break with some of his previous recent outings [indeed, one can hear some similarities in the lyrical metre and delivery with the more engaged performances on "Rain Tree Crow"], digs out the bullhorn or at least a vocal mike which will distort warmly for almost all of his performances, as well as really giving way in a much more explicit way to the music this time out (the vocals on the extended "20th Century Dreaming" really seem more like "lead breaks" than the sort of focus of our attention that one expects vocals to provide). And there's only one explicitly instrumental piece on the disc - the dense Frippertronic/keyboard takes on "Bringing Down the Light" (a sort of "Evening Star" meets "Plight and Premonition").
"Gunn isn't invisible at all (indeed, his Stick work is all over the place) - but, rather, it's like the work of a world-class waiter: the food appears on your plate out of nowhere, prepared and presented nicely (the Stick playing on "God's Monkey" is *right* in the pocket, and I doubt that the slow and subtle rhythmic transitions from Crimsonoid crunching to the loping end rhythms of "20th Century Dreaming" would have worked without him. Lord, I'll bet Bruford would have loved to take a crack at
at all from the earlier Tokyo tapes, so you'll have to trust me - there's some more great material floating around out there (something called "The Blinding Light of Heaven", for starters). Maybe we'll get some non-LP B-sides!
- that*....). Only two of these pieces really show up in their present form
"I hate ratings, but recognize their use: 9.2 Hematite/Whippet-Doberman mix/dark indigo. A worthwhile and satisfying addition to the catalog of both men, I think. Considering that either one of them has an ego larger than many develop- ing nations, it'll be interesting to see how long they can work together. I hope it lasts."
Date Submitted: 20-Dec-93
By: Jon Andrews (jdandrea at delphi dot com)
"Sure, it has been out for a bit, but the reviews keep coming in. Here's one from Down Beat magazine, January 1994, on page 43 (reproduced without permission):
"Rating: **** 1/2 (out of 5)
"Armed with an electric guitar, Robert Fripp can be a malevolent force, capable of inflicting crushing power chords or relentless, convulsed solos. Fripp has subordinated these facets of his persona in recent years, preferring "Frippertronic" guitar loops or his acoustic League of Crafty Guitarists over rock music as vehicles for improvisation. Even in the last edition of Fripp's King Crimson, the guitarist usually played rhythm, shunning the limelight in favor of singer/guitarist Adrian Belew.
"_The First Day_ rocks hard and mean, offering sustained Fripp lead guitar in a context rarely heard since his mid-'70s King Crimson incarnation. At first glance, David Sylvian's introspection seems like a mismatch for Fripp's intemperance. Since disbanding the Roxy Music-influenced group Japan, Sylvian has generated moody, meditative solo work, with oblique, mystical lyrics. The collaboration works, as Fripp pushes Sylvian to extend his vocal range. Sylvian helps craft appropriate tunes, and encourages Fripp to play like Fripp.
"After "God's Monkey" and "Jean the Birdman," concise, hook-filled tunes featuring Sylvian, Fripp dominates the project. "Firepower" and "20th Century Dreaming" surround Sylvian's brooding vocals with brutish guitar chords before giving way to extended instrumental vamps, centered on Trey Gunn's vibrant Chapman stick. These vamps support Fripp's twisting solos and Sylvian's atmospheric electronics, though at greater than necessary length. Fripp's leads quote vintage Crimson as well as Jimi Hendrix. "Darshan" exhaustively explores a 17-minute funk riff. Somewhat reminiscent of _Panagea_-era Miles, it's the most successful use of dance music either Fripp or Sylvian has achieved. Fripp launches solos from these repetitive rhythm beds, much as he would use Frippertronics or the League of Crafty Guitarists. The tactic diminishes the power of Fripp's playing somewhat by eliminating any catharsis. But that's quibbling.
"Fun in the car and ideal for tormenting neighbors, _The First Day_ will serve as a high-quality Fripp fix until the next King Crimson revival."
Date Submitted: 29-Jan-98
By: Umberto Fidanza (bbradipo at usa dot net)
"Firepower in my opinion features the best Mr. Fripp's soloing I've ever heard - heart and brain perfectly balanced. This solo only would be worth the price of the CD"