Review Summary: It is impossible to achieve the aim without suffering.
It can be said that ambition is what drives oneself to reach for the top, or it can be said it is the reason for our being. Ambition is what drives us to become great and to reach for the impossible. It’s ultimately an aspect that makes each and every one of us human. The fading, wispy strains of the title track of David Sylvian’s Brilliant Trees
seemed quite like a transition in the making; the ambition of Sylvian evolving once more from the ambience of the second half of that album . Sylvian was onto something with the extended workout that capped Brilliant Trees
, which came as no surprise when just a year later, Alchemy – An Index of Possibilities
was released. Originally just available on the cassette format and in limited quantities, Alchemy
was the direction Sylvian wished to move forward in in the wake of his successful debut. Further striving to experiment, Sylvian eschewed his vocals in favor of making the project fully instrumental to expand upon what Sylvian described as “the musical footnotes to some of the themes started earlier on Brilliant Trees
is remarkably straightforward in its approach and doesn’t cut any corners throughout its duration. Being limited to the relatively lo-fi cassette format didn’t exactly allow for Sylvian and co. to really let loose without compromising the limitations of cassette, hence the short duration of the album itself. Each of the three compositions all share a common vibe – meditative, concise and spacious, the organic sound of the pieces all lend itself greatly to the mood the songs were trying to establish. ”Words With The Shaman”
, featuring the key members of Brilliant Trees
, lay out a sonic palette that seamlessly weaves in and out of its three sections to create a piece very reminiscent of the second half of Brian Eno’s Before and After Science
. ”Preparations for a Journey”
strays from the tribality of its preceding track to create a quick and effective soundscape of sharp and gliding Frippian guitar amidst the faint murmurs of percussion and glimmering synthesizers. ”Steel Cathedrals”
however, arrives broodingly and takes its sweet time in getting started. The increased use of synthesizers and subtle touches of piano alongside simmering guitar give away the presence of not only Ryuichi Sakamoto, but that of Robert Fripp as well – at this point, Sylvian practically had created a supergroup just for this track.
Whereas the previous two pieces dove head first into their themes, ”Steel Cathedrals”
full-on expects patience from its audience, to immerse themselves in the sounds that emanate from their speakers. Captivating and encompassing an array of moods to keep its subject at bay, Alchemy
was perhaps an index of possibilities that could result in this left-field diversion from commercial acclaim. While it meant progress on Sylvian’s end, the end result was a confounded record label that expected another ”Red Guitar”
or the template that made his past endeavors successful. But what did he care, for this just drove him to go in a unprecedented direction.