Eyeless In Gaza
Pale Hands I Loved So Well
(Uniton 004, 1982, Lp)
by Dave Henderson (Sounds, April 16 1983)
Not a new album by Becker and Bates but a set of recordings done around the time of ‘Drumming the Beating Heart’ which were originally licensed to the Dutch [Norwegian] Uniton label. Now that Uniton have established English offices [?] and distribution, it’s available over here.
Recorded in the winter of 1981, this shows yet another facet of Eyeless, much looser and in a way less restricted. From electronics to acoustic percussion and bowed instruments, Eyeless have produced an album of short but effective soundtracks; not for films but for everyday life. Similar in some respects to Eno’s more obscure dabblings, Eyeless manage to make the whole thing that touch more accessible.
In a way, it tends to be too abstract and there isn’t really enough to tie anything down specifically but it is compulsive listening – either as a central listening point or a background sound. You could easily dismiss the whole thing as perfect piped muzak for the Indonesian deli but there’s a lot more going on here than initially meets the eye.
Like a musical history trip, from neo-classical wanderings reminiscent of Gregorian chants to the first hesitant steps of avant-garde experimentation, industrialism and deathday percussion. All tied together by the Eyeless seal of eccentricity, there’s even a semi-funk bass thrown in for good measure.
If you’ve pondered on Eyeless In Gaza before but never been quite convinced, then this album will either throw you into even more confusion or make you see a lot of things that they never quite grasped before. I never knew there was so much in it.
by Mark Brennan [He also reviews another album released on Uniton by DOME Will You Speak This Word (Uniton U011)]
“WATT had watched people smile and thought he understood how it was done,” wrote Beckett and, several decades further on Eyeless In Gaza and Dome have watched his dance of despair and thought they understood how it was done.
The influence is apparent from the beginning. The first piece of the Dome album is called “To Speak”; it is concerned with the possibility and nature of communication, and in its insistent, indeed obsessive, exploration of that theme (“To speak and let my words come round” being the sole lyric) it is redolent of a Beckett-like relishing of limitation. But where Beckett narrows his focus in order to deepen his stare, Dome constrict their sight so much that they are rendered merely myopic: their gaze illuminates nothing. Perhaps they should adopt an Eyeless moniker too.
Instead, it’s their label mates Gaza that have patented that one, and no wonder: their vision is not the most far-reaching either, while their debt to Beckett is in the narrow range of emotions explored. But where the continuous ennui of a Beckett character can be compelling to the voyeur, the frustrations of these musicians merely leaves the listener equally frustrated.
There is nothing wrong with being obsessed by one mood, wracked by one temper, but Eyeless In Gaza and Dome offer nothing because they fail to define or animate that experience. They tap us on the shoulder and whisper of whims and wishes when they should grab us, suck us in, declare their distrust of the world and demand their right to tell us of it. I would call it adolescent angst but the emotion is not even that strong: it’s more a sort of listless annoyance. Nor is there any splendour or joy within its range, just a vague longing.
The only relief from all this are the tentative allusions on “Will You Speak This Word” to the politics of information, the technology of power and the power of technology, but you have to be Kraftwerk or Cabaret Voltaire to do this intelligently and “Computer World” or “The Voice of America” this ain’t. Truth to tell, it isn’t even OMD’s “Dazzle Ships” at least that is merely laughably naive; this is ponderously self-important.
It’s hardly worth advising you as to how this music sounds (though for the record, it’s notable mainly for some basic synth underpinning and blistering saxophone spurts over the top of a less captivating reprise of Bowie’s “Neukoln”, in fact) so instead I’ll end by advising the artists themselves: if you can’t understand how to smile, then understand how to frown with conviction.
by Ned Raggett (allmusic.com)
Having already released a slew of singles and full releases, Eyeless in Gaza found itself already well primed to deliver this striking album, arguably the highlight of the band’s earliest days. It’s a delicate, focused, and impassioned collection that sounds like little else released in the English-speaking world in 1981. The Durutti Column might be the best comparison, but there’s a clear difference between Vini Reilly’s blend of structure and exploration (especially given his regular use of drums) and Bates and Becker’s often more free-form compositions, which can have a central rhythmic quality but don’t always need or use actual rhythms. The haunting tones, guitar-produced and otherwise, on songs like “Warm Breath, Soft and Slow” suggest strange, soothing alien messages that aren’t that far removed either way from Brian Eno or the Aphex Twin, or even Amnesiac-era Radiohead, say. Bates’ singing here is almost totally absent or reduced to near-abstraction, letting the focus fall specifically on the duo’s ear for unexpected arrangements and unusual melodies. Touches from clattering, musique concrète percussion on “Sheer Cliffs”, swathed in heavy echo to sound even more monumental, and Gregorian chant samples on “Letters to She” years before they would become standard dance/ambient reference points, help flesh out the album’s strange power. Hands-down highlights: “Blue Distance”, Bates’ strong, breathy keen cutting across a layer of instruments, including lush piano that sounds like Harold Budd on speed, “Lies of Love”, with a softly growing chime taking the fore along with Bates’ singing over murky rumbles, and a wonderful one-two combination at the end. “Light Sliding” features one of Bates’ few straightforward vocals over a lovely keyboard figure like a heavenly carnival ride, while “Big Clipper Ship” concludes the album with a combination of acoustic and electric guitar and kalimba that’s at once beautiful and chaotic.