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David Sylvian - Alchemy - An Index Of Possibilities CD (album) cover


David Sylvian

Crossover Prog

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3 stars A mini album, originally only released on cassette, between Brilliant Trees and Gone to Earth, the material collected here was recorded for a number or different projects, inlcuding, in the case of steel cathedrals, for an art installation. It is largely instrumental, with some chants and incantatory vocals liberally splashed across the long arrangements, some of which are extraordinarilt pretty. Words with the Shaman is the stand-out track as far as I'm concerned, being set up with some tribal-sounding drums and then being fleshed out with the chanting vocals, the arabic/north african sounds and a lulling progression. It's superb chill-out music. The music is definitely akin to the second side (wailing wall etc) of Brilliant Trees but is more ambient in texture. It should be noted that the sound quality on a lot of the pieces is not of the highest quality as the tapes on which they were recorded were not in the best of order by the time they were committed to this min-album. While it's not essentual Sylvian it rises above the collectors only category usually reserved for mini-albums, collections of rarities and off-cuts. The music is beguiling, stimulating, atmospheric, evocative and at times very beautiful. Recommended with the caveat of it being poorly recorded in parts and sparse musically in places,. But with a stellar cast around him, in particular the work of Fripp and trumpet player Hassell are noteworthy, this is definitely worth a listen, though overpriced on its recent remaster. The unremastered version included on a special edition pack alongside Brilliant Trees may sonically less improved but is better value.
Report this review (#33190)
Posted Tuesday, November 16, 2004 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This is good collection of ambient instrumentals recorded with the band that took part in "Brilliant Trees", Sylvian's phenomenal debut. A notable addition to this release is Robert Fripp and his Frippertronics, who would contribute on later Sylvian's albums as well. This is nice and atmospheric ambient music, sometimes containing tribal percussions and chants as in "Words With Shaman", sometimes presenting David's version od electronic "space music" as in "Steel Cathedrals". Fripp's signature guitar effects and Hassell's trumpet add some jazzy feel. Since probaly the best part of "Alchemy", the tri-partite "Words With Shaman" is included on some remastered versions of "Brilliant Trees", this album may be redundant if you are not a particular fan of David's. If you like Frippertronics or Peter Gabriel solo albums "4th", "Birdy" or "Passion", you are well advised to listen to this release. Although basically a collector's edition, due to nice, spontaneous and ambitionless (in a positive meaning!) performance I would rate it ***.
Report this review (#112963)
Posted Wednesday, February 21, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Alchemy - An Index of Possibilities is the second solo studio album from former Japan frontman David Sylvian. David Sylvian´s debut studio album Brilliant Trees (1984) was a good album that sounded a lot like the last couple of Japan albums but with a world music influence. The music on Brilliant Trees was centered around David´s warm and deeply emotional vocal style. Alchemy - An Index of Possibilities is not the natural follow up from David Sylvian and I have to say that I´m a bit impressed with David´s boldness when you think about how early in his solo career he released Alchemy - An Index of Possibilities. The album is of a much more experimental character than his more safe debut album but not neccessarely better.

The first thing you notice when listening to Alchemy - An Index of Possibilities is the total lack of vocals with the exception of a few samples and background chants. David Sylvian´s warm and beautiful vocals does not appear at any time during the 48:41 minutes the album lasts. So this is an almost totally instrumental album. The music is generally very ambient and repetitive. Easy listening jazzy with lots of synth and flugelhorn ( or trumpet, I´m not a brass expert). Very few of the songs stand out as being different in style from the rest and I would mention The Stigma of Childhood and especially the slightly avant garde A Brief Conversation Ending in Divorce as the most interesting songs for me. The 18:58 minute long Steel Cathedrals overstays its welcome by several minutes IMO.

The musicianship is excellent and the production is warm and pleasant.

The total lack of David´s vocals does mean that I´m not that interested in this album. The music is simply too ambient and repetitive for me to enjoy without the addition of vocals. I´d say Alchemy - An Index of Possibilities is for the most adventourous fans of David Sylvian and not for those of us who mostly enjoy his music because of his voice. A 2 star rating is fair seen from my view.

Report this review (#192429)
Posted Tuesday, December 9, 2008 | Review Permalink
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams
4 stars With this second solo album, the experience of Japan can be considered close for David Sylvian. From my point of view this is a good thing as I've never been a fan of 80s glam-pop- dark-new wave stuff.

Alchemy is an athmospheric album with a strong ethnic/oriental flavour but with many relations with Krautrock, too. The mini-suit "Words with the Shaman", maybe because of the effort of the former CAN Holger Czukay has a strong connection with it, specially in the first part. The second part is more lectronic and sounds very 80s (fairlight(?) and electronic drumming). It makes me think to Richard Wright's "ZEE - Identity" because of the sounds and their darkness, but the ethnic element is still in evidence. The third part is very ambient, instead, even if the sound continues to be dated to the 80s. Not all the 80s were bad, of course, and this album represents a good moment in a bad period for music. The whole suite is probably more "newage" than progressive, but it's really good. The trumpet (flugelhorn?) of the third part reminds to Mark Isham.

A chord reminiscent of a Sitar opens "The Stigma Of Childhood". It's a musical mantra. Imagine a Tibetan temple on the Himalayan heights. The mystic calm that emanates from this track is great. Meditative. Between Mark Isham(Tibet) and Tangerine Dream(Zeit).

"A Brief Conversation Ending In" is contemporary classic, instead. The disharmonic sounds, mainly by keyboards and piano, are from a different level of reality. Stockhausen meets the Tangerine Dream.

Finally "Steel Cathedral" is the album's epic. A keyboard chord grows very slowly from silence. Little variations remind again to the early Tangerine Dream. No more newage. This is space rock and the reference is again Zeit. Background voices like in Vangelis "Mare Tranquillitatis" bring the listener to the outer space. Percussive accents join after 5 minutes, then the flugelhorn (or the trumpet?) enhances the experience. It's the sound of "Blade Runner Blues", but also of Mark Isham's Tibet. Since now the track developes with piano, guitar, percussions, without losing the original mood. Variation after variation we are now in a jazzy suite. The French voice that appears here and there is very appropriate while piano and guitar fill the blanks.

Let's add to the above that the lineup includes people like Robert Fripp and Ryuichi Sakamoto.

I'm sometimes too meditative and I pay a tribute to the fact that I've been addicted to newage for a period of my life, but I think that this is an excellent album that deserves a place in every prog discography.

4 stars

Report this review (#362476)
Posted Friday, December 24, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars A delightful instrumental album which must have confused many Sylvian fans back in '85.

Without doubt it's the most overlooked of his recordings. This one trickles with Indonesian sweat as he continues directly from the last track on 'Brilliant Trees' from the previous year. Jon Hassell's flugelhorn sounds inspired, wrapping itself around Eastern vocals along with Steve Jansen's ethnic drum thumping.

For those who wished they could have heard a continuation of 'Brilliant Trees' - this is the one. It almost sounds like it should have been part of a double album.

'Steel Cathedrals' - the big 18min side two track is basically a forerunner to his work with Holger Czakay in '87. Only here it sounds far more Eastern and minimal. An Excellent but sadly overlooked recording.

Report this review (#766417)
Posted Thursday, June 7, 2012 | Review Permalink

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