The fractured, stark yin to Dead Bees on a Cake's tranquil, sensuous yang, Blemish is an unforeseen detour taken by David Sylvian, who has made eight of his most bare, anguished, and intense songs, all of which are neither pleasant nor the least bit settling. For half of the album, Sylvian is completely alone, accompanied only by his own guitar and electronic treatments. On the others, he is joined by either Derek Bailey or Christian Fennesz, two guitarists with indispensable roles. The opening title track sets the tone, with heavily echoed noise fibers warping and reverberating for nearly 14 minutes. The effects swell and recede at a disquieting but sunken volume, while Sylvian's upfront voice -- more stripped and vulnerable than it was in Japan's "Ghosts" -- slips in lines like "I fall outside of her," "Give me one more chance to do things right," and "Life's for the taking, so they say -- take it away." Bailey's improvised work appears in three songs and is most complementary during "The Good Son," in which his prickles and sudden spasms carry and push, rather than support, Sylvian's voice. "A Fire in the Forest," the album's own "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," lets the listener out with a battered sense of optimism. Featuring an arrangement from Fennesz, a melody struggles to find its way out of twisted fragments and soft beams of noise, as Sylvian sings of his search to reach the sunshine that awaits him above gray skies. Throughout the album, clues are dropped about the events that transpired and the circumstances surrounding them, but it's all left to be pieced together and interpreted by the listener, who will have to sift through the hedged lines, meticulously organized sounds -- from rattling shopping carts to handclaps to delicate fragments of guitar -- and numerous disfigurations of clear-cut linear thought. Blemish is the kind of record that provokes many longtime followers to throw up their arms in aggravation -- it's very much a "final straw" record. A work of beautiful, desolate fragility, Blemish is also the kind of record that will have the opposite effect on a select few, most of whom no doubt obsess over records like Scott Walker's Tilt and Mark Hollis' Mark Hollis.
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AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman