This reissue of 'Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities' is a thoughtful one- comprising the original 1985 tape-only release that saw tracks 'Preperation for a Journey' & 'Steel Cathedrals' released alongside the 'Words with the Shaman' e.p. with the hard to find b-sides to 1989's 'Pop Song' single (found on the deleted 'Weatherbox' set). Much of the work here appeared in some form on the 'Camphor' compilation a few years ago...
As a collection of Sylvian's instrumental work, it blends together very well- though anyone who didn't enjoy his other instrumental work (the Czukay albums 'Flux&Mutability'/'Plight&Premonition', the last sides of 'Gone to Earth') may not be that enamoured.
The three-part 'Words With the Shaman'-suite is particularly wonderful- 'Part1: Ancient Evening', 'Part 2: Incantation' & 'Part 3: Awakening (Songs from the Tree Tops)' find Sylvian and brother Jansen advancing on the 'Brilliant Trees' collaboration with Holger Czuckay ('Full Circle' with Liebzeit & Wobble) and Jon Hassell ('Power Spot'). If played directly after listening to Hassell/Sylvian's co-written song 'Brilliant Trees', it makes complete sense. 'Words with the Shaman' is as strong as Eno/Byrne's 'My Life in the Bush of Ghosts' or Philip Glass' 'Powaqqatsi'. 'Preparation for a Journey' & 'Steel Cathedrals' extend on this, but have been seen by many people as I know as extremly indulgent- personally I think they've dated well and are in need of reassessment. These tracks aren't that far from Penguin Cafe Orchestra or Peter Gabriel's artier work (e.g the 'Birdy' soundtrack) and can be seen to extend on the territory started with tracks like 'A Foreign Place' and 'Canton.' It's nice to hear a blend of ambient, world music and jazz coming together- could this be a post-Eno 'Filles De Kilimanjaro'?
'Pop Song' eventually turned up on 2000's compilation 'Everything&Nothing'- its b-sides were harder to find; it seems apt that they are added to this set (perhaps Flux and Plight ought to be reissued as a double-set?). These tracks were a lot more influenced by John Cage- 'A Brief Conversation in Divorce' reminding you of Cage's 'Sonatas&Interludes', as well as 1981's 'Ghosts'. One of Sylvian's most interesting instrumentals and well worth hearing, if you enjoy avant-garde classical (John Taylor's piano is another highlight). 'The Stigma of Childhood (Kin)' finds Sylvian alone, perhaps alluding (in wordless form) to events dealt with on the recent Blemish (2003) album? It has a similar feel musically to 'Blemish'... This track is probably more Philip Glass/Steve Reich- an interesting direction...I'd love to hear a soundtrack to a film in this mode (perhaps someone should ask Sylvian?). The almost blues guitar is interesting- the missing link between Ry Cooder and the Americana that Sylvian began to explore with 'Every Colour You Are' and 'Blackwater'. These tracks are excellent bonus tracks and make this collection an interesting one- though granted the ambient side of Sylvian doesn't appeal to all. Most definitely worth exploring, if you have an open mind (an index of possibilities, after all...). This set also shows, as an album like 'Laughing Stock', the difference between a pop star and an artist. Wasn't it great in the 80s when people like Hollis and Sylvian decided that pop wasn't enough and opted for avant-garde climes? This is why 'Kid A' isn't that out there...Regardless, the 'Alchemy'-reissue is one of interest and an unacknowledged highlight of Sylvian's 80s oeuvre.