Brilliant Trees

Brilliant Trees is the first solo album by the British singer-songwriter David Sylvian, released in June 1984. The album peaked at number 4 on the UK Albums Chart and has been certified Gold by the British Phonographic Industry for sales in excess of 100,000 copies.[2][3]

Brilliant Trees
David Sylvian-Brilliant Trees (album cover).jpg
Studio album by
Released25 June 1984[1]
David Sylvian chronology
Brilliant Trees
Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities
Singles from Brilliant Trees
  1. "Red Guitar"
    Released: 21 May 1984
  2. "The Ink in the Well"
    Released: 6 August 1984
  3. "Pulling Punches"
    Released: 22 October 1984
Alternative cover
2003 remastered edition
2003 remastered edition


Produced by Sylvian with Steve Nye, Brilliant Trees was Sylvian's first full-length release after the break-up of his band Japan in December 1982 (though former Japan members Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri both appear on the album). AllMusic called the album "an eclectic affair fusing funk, jazz, and ambient."[4] Additional musicians on the album included Holger Czukay, Danny Thompson, Jon Hassell, Mark Isham, Ronny Drayton, Kenny Wheeler, Phil Palmer and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Sylvian and Sakamoto had previously collaborated on the singles "Bamboo Houses" and "Forbidden Colours", and continued to collaborate at various points in their careers.

Brilliant Trees was recorded August 1983 at Hansa in Berlin, and over about 6 weeks in London at the end of 1983 and the beginning of 1984. With the majority of vocal overdubs completed at The Church Studios in Crouch End, Sylvian and Nye then relocated to Air Studios to begin mixing.[5]

Lyrically, the album includes references to writers, thinkers and artistic figures who were influencing Sylvian at the time, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau. For instance, the song "Ink in the Well" references Cocteau's film Blood of a Poet and Sartre's novel The Age of Reason. Many of the lyrics also express Sylvian's searching explorations of spirituality in different forms.

For the recording of the album Sylvian decided to work with musicians he respected as a dedicated band, tailoring the arrangements around their involvement and giving them each a specific role, rather than hiring less passionate session musicians. A huge fan of Holger Czukay's album Movies, Sylvian also invited Czukay to contribute to the album. Czukay supplied the innovative contributions of samples played back on a dictaphone, and became a close friend of Sylvian.[6]


The album peaked at number 4 in the UK, the highest chart position of Sylvian's career to date,[2] and contains his biggest solo hit, "Red Guitar", which reached number 17 on the UK Singles Chart. In 1994, ten years after its release, the album was certified Gold by the BPI for sales in excess of 100,000 copies.[3]

In 1991, the album was reissued in the US as Brilliant Trees / Words with the Shaman, which included the three part single "Words with the Shaman" as bonus tracks; these songs were also included on the cassette-only album Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities. In 2003, a remastered limited digipak version of Brilliant Trees was released. In 2006 it was reissued in a standard jewel-case. The album cover for both releases was altered to a cropped photo of Sylvian with new type fonts.

In February 2019, as part of a redesigned monochrome sleeved vinyl reissue batch of his 1980s albums, Brilliant Trees was released in a gatefold sleeve, once again with a new set of type fonts. No new mastering was done for this; the 2003 remaster was used.

Critical receptionEdit

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic     [4]
Classic Rock9/10[7]
The Guardian     [8]
Mojo     [9]
Q     [11]
Record Mirror     [12]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide     [13]
Smash Hits8/10[14]

Brilliant Trees was well received by the contemporary British music press. "Sylvian has grown up," wrote Sounds critic Carole Linfield. "He's left art school, gone through the grey and come out in a spectrum of pastel shades that entrance and enthral. Gone is the clichéd imagery that once haunted Japan... in its place is a solo artist who deserves more respect than his beautiful face often allows." In an enthusiastic review, Melody Maker's Steve Sutherland, who had previously been critical of Sylvian's work with Japan, concluded that "Brilliant Trees inadvertently attains the stature Sylvian's always sought. It's a masterpiece."[16]

Richard Cook for NME described the album as "private and intolerant – really, an astonishing statement from one in his position – but it is a transformation of thought into music which involves the finest skill, an uncanny talent."[17] Betty Page for Record Mirror described it as "all oh-so-fragile but meaty at the same time, obviously occasionally un peu pretentious, but very painstakingly crafted and built up with great care and affection."[12]

Track listingEdit

All tracks are written by David Sylvian, except as noted.

1."Pulling Punches" 5:02
2."The Ink in the Well" 4:30
3."Nostalgia" 5:41
4."Red Guitar" 5:09
5."Weathered Wall"Sylvian, Jon Hassell5:44
6."Backwaters" 4:52
7."Brilliant Trees"Sylvian, Hassell8:39
Total length:39:37




  • David Sylvian – producer for Klangfarben Productions, mixing assistant
  • Steve Nye – record producer for Klangfarben Productions, sound engineer, audio mixing (1, 3–5, 7)
  • Peter Williams – sound engineer, mixing assistant mixer
  • Nigel Walker – mixing (2, 6)
  • Matt Butler – assistant mixing (2, 6)
  • Yuka Fujii – photography


Chart (1984) Peak
Australian Albums (Kent Music Report)[18] 96
Canada Top Albums/CDs (RPM)[19] 50
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[20] 7
Japanese Albums (Oricon)[21] 16
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[22] 37
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[23] 33
UK Albums (OCC)[2] 4


  1. ^ "Brilliant Trees". David Sylvian : Expect Everything And Nothing Less. 14 March 2015. Retrieved 28 February 2021.
  2. ^ a b c "David Sylvian | Artist | Official Charts". UK Albums Chart.
  3. ^ a b "BRIT Certified Award – David Sylvian – Brilliant Trees". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 28 February 2021.
  4. ^ a b Hayes, Kelvin. "Brilliant Trees – David Sylvian". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  5. ^ Reynolds, Anthony (2018). Cries and Whispers. Burning Shed.
  6. ^ Wallace, Wyndham (19 March 2012). "David Sylvian's Guide To The Work Of David Sylvian". The Quietus. Retrieved 8 July 2021.
  7. ^ Stubbs, David (April 2019). "David Sylvian: Reissues". Classic Rock. No. 260. pp. 92–93.
  8. ^ Sweeting, Adam (5 September 2003). "Pop on the verge of a nervous breakdown". The Guardian.
  9. ^ Eccleston, Danny (April 2019). "Ghosts busters". Mojo. No. 305. p. 100.
  10. ^ Sodomsky, Sam (23 February 2019). "David Sylvian: Brilliant Trees / Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities / Gone to Earth / Secrets of the Beehive". Pitchfork. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  11. ^ "David Sylvian: Brilliant Trees". Q. No. 208. November 2003. p. 135.
  12. ^ a b Page, Betty (30 June 1984). "Hi ho Sylvian". Record Mirror. p. 20. Retrieved 28 February 2021 – via Flickr.
  13. ^ Considine, J. D. (1992). "David Sylvian". In DeCurtis, Anthony; Henke, James; George-Warren, Holly (eds.). The Rolling Stone Album Guide (3rd ed.). Random House. pp. 688–689. ISBN 0-679-73729-4.
  14. ^ Rimmer, Dave (7–20 June 1984). "David Sylvian: Brilliant Trees". Smash Hits. Vol. 6, no. 12. p. 19. Archived from the original on 20 October 2020. Retrieved 28 February 2021 – via Google Sites.
  15. ^ Bonner, Michael (March 2019). "David Sylvian: Brilliant Trees". Uncut. No. 262. p. 49.
  16. ^ Martin Power David Sylvian: The Last Romantic Omnibus Press 2012, chapter 9
  17. ^ Cook, Richard (4 August 1984). "Fab Foliage!". NME. p. 32. Retrieved 28 February 2021 – via Rock's Backpages.
  18. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 303. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  19. ^ "Top RPM Albums: Issue 8532". RPM. Library and Archives Canada.
  20. ^ " – David Sylvian – Brilliant Trees" (in Dutch). Hung Medien.
  21. ^ Okamoto, Satoshi (2006). Album Chart Book: Complete Edition 1970–2005. Roppongi, Tokyo: Oricon. ISBN 4-87131-077-9.
  22. ^ " – David Sylvian – Brilliant Trees". Hung Medien.
  23. ^ " – David Sylvian – Brilliant Trees". Hung Medien.