Produced by Sylvian with Steve Nye, it was his first full length release after the break-up of his band Japan in late 1982 (though former Japan members Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri both appear on the album). The album peaked at no.4 in the UK, the highest chart position of Sylvian's career to date, and contains his biggest solo hit, "Red Guitar", which reached no.17 on the UK Singles Chart. Additional musicians on the album included Danny Thompson on acoustic bass and Ryuichi Sakamoto on keyboards. Sylvian and Sakamoto had previously collaborated on the singles "Bamboo Houses" and "Forbidden Colours", and continued to collaborate at various points in their careers.
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 2006, a remastered version of Brilliant Trees was released. The album cover was altered with a cropped photo of Sylvian for this release.