Eyeless In Gaza
Summer Salt & Subway Sun
(A-Scale 033, October 30 2006, Cd)
(Beta-lactam Ring Records mt210/mt211, July 27th 2008, 3xCd or 2xCd: 3xCd of 400 copies in box + bonus Cd Wildcat Fights, numbered (signed insert pre-orders before July 25 2008); 2xCd of 600 copies in box (1st pressing))
by Mike Barnes (The Wire, January 2007)
Eyeless In Gaza
Summer Salt & Subway Sun
AMBIVALENT SCALE CD
Plague of Years : Songs and Instrumentals 1980-2006
SUB ROSA CD
Your Jewled Footsteps :Solo and Collaboration Works 1979-2005
SUB ROSA CD
Even before one listens to the music within, the artwork of the two Sub Rosa compilations gives a visual insight into Martyn Bates’s muse. Photographs of nondescript houses in his hometown of Nuneaton, sitting under grey skies, are juxtaposed with rain-spattered windows, flame red sunsets and lush fields, neatly illustrating a sense of an otherness on the edge of the everyday that has run through Bates’ lyrics and music from the very first.
For a time in the early 80’s Eyeless in Gaza, the duo of Bates and Pete Becker, appeared to be raincoat-clad popsters with severe haircuts – a notion that soon evaporated. Their music was melodic, but there was intensity about it. Plague of Years illustrates how Bates remarkable voice has developed in character and poise from these early untrammelled outpourings of yells and yodels where syllables were chewed up or elongated to the point of incomprehensibility.
Eyeless in Gaza soon became more lyrical, with Bates’ lyrics capturing transience, loss, the subtleties of sensation and a pantheistic awe at the natural world. It’s unsurprising, then, that he has enjoyed an overlap with the folk tradition. Although ‘She Moves Thru The Fair’ (from 1985) has so much reverb it sounds like it was recorded in a cave (in a garage, actually –Ed.), it is beautifully sung. Bates’s exploration of folk forms is more in evidence on Your Jewled Footsteps. Although his earliest solo work is almost interchangeable with Eyeless In Gaza’s, ‘90’s collaborations with Max Eastley (‘Cherry Tree Carol’) and Mick Harris (‘Cruel Mother’, from their Murder Ballads album) are more spectral, with his voice soaring through the music’s space.
Although Eyeless in Gaza’s work has a tendency to slip under the radar, its quality has been remarkable consistent. Bates still enjoys a potent musical relationship with Becker and the brand new album Summer Salt And Subway Sun is fresh and vital, as good as anything they’ve done before. A mix of drifting ambiance, churning guitars and layered sonics, it ranges from the sparse piano and voice of ‘Mixed Choir’ to the dark edged instrumental ‘Whitening Rays’. According to Bates, this album represents a conscious sideways move to prevent them being lumped in with any of the new folk fads. But let’s also hope that it doesn’t estrange them further from the attention they so obviously deserve.
by Joe Tangari (Pitchfork.com, October 23, 2008)
England’s Martyn Bates and Peter Becker have been recording under the name Eyeless In Gaza for nearly 30 years. The duo formed in 1980, taking their name from an Aldous Huxley novel, and have since put together a body of work as remarkable for its consistent quality as its near-total lack of mainstream recognition. They seem content to toil away in the shadows, though, working their unique post-punk niche in a way that sounds modern, yet somehow also very old. Their out-of-time-ness might account for some of their lack of recognition – any time a trend comes along, there’s a good chance they tired of it five years earlier. Case in point: On Summer Salt & Subway Sun they’ve nearly abandoned their occasional weird-folk leanings in an era when weird folk music is hot property.
The most immediately striking feature of this album is the incredible lengths to which Beta-Lactam Ring has gone to package the thing. It’s a 2xCD set housed in a hinged, hard-bound box with two slipcases inside, each solid enough to be their own packaging. There’s also a lyric book, and the CDs have dust jackets to keep them from getting scratched. It’s a display piece that seems ever the more lavish for appearing in the age of the mp3. The two discs, Summer Salt & Subway Sun, are stylistically similar – simple sequencing seems to have been the sole determinant of what songs wound up where.
Bates and Becker rarely employ anything approaching a full drum kit, and these pieces of music derive most of their rhythmic energy from guitars, electronics, and percussion programming. Bates’ smooth and clear tenor leads us through the soundscapes with melodic authority, his vocal lines often turning in strange and unexpected ways as the arrangements shift below them. One of the most masterful compositions on either disc is “Where Vivid Bloomed”, where the wash of synth that backs the initial verses surprisingly coalesces into a shimmering loop and modulates to a new key. It’s a spine-tingling moment where the band manage to wrench a strong emotional effect from a bed of entirely artificial sound, while simultaneously turning a static piece of music into something alive and urgent.
There are passages on the record that have the feel of intergalactic drift, as small, pinging sounds float through dark, icy spaces – the coda of “All New” would probably sound just as good soundtracking a planetarium presentation. The duo’s instrumentals range from quiet, ghostly, ambient explorations to workouts for drum machine and minimalist guitar. Though their music is too distinctive to peg to any particular peers, they bear a sort of spiritual similarity to Bark Psychosis, Disco Inferno, Talk Talk, and the Durutti Column – artists who similarly filled the air between genres – but these guys have done it longer than any of those colleagues. This album is accessible and ultimately enveloping, a worthwhile addition to an already expansive body of work from two musicians who have only ever been interested in doing their own thing.
by Dave Henderson (Church of Dave, 17 Oct, 2008)
E’s are good
It was all so simple when The Shaman extolled the virtues of Ebenzer Good back in the acid house hullabaloo some 20 years ago. Today, at the Church as we enter the final weekend of our short blog history, we celebrate the letter ‘E’ in all it’s simplistic beauty, just like Sesame Street.
This week, we have mostly been listening to the Eyeless In Gaza box set, Summer Salt & Subway Sun. A three CD set of mesmerising atmospherics that plunder jam band riffing at before tripping into the outherworldly space that begs the question why this duo are not more widely known. Indeed, their 18 minute romp Wildcat Fights, is simply breathtaking. They have much in common with the wayward spirit that was the fledgling Brian Eno, a man who could not attend the Q Awards last week as he is “recording ice”. Hope the weather holds … .
by Matthew Johnson (Re:Gen, October 28, 2008)
The lazy heat of high summer days, captured through an eclectic blend of ambient rock, post-punk, and dreamy electro-acoustic experimentation.
Eyeless In Gaza have seemingly grown more expansive, eclectic, and ambitious with every release, and considering that Martyn Bates and Peter Becker have been making music together for over a quarter of a century, that’s really saying something. Originally released in 2006 on A-Scale Recordings as a single album, Summer Salt & Subway Sun now comes as a deluxe reissue featuring a second album of all-new material. Both albums blend seamlessly, each enveloped by the same dreamy lethargy of hot, late summer days, each blending elements as diverse as noise, ambient, and folk. The first CD, now simply titled Summer Salt, begins with the sleepy soundscape and muffled street noise of “Dust Box/Subway Sun”, a piece as pleasantly mild as a summer morning, a groggy wake-up call one responds to with reluctance. “Whitening Rays” segues smoothly into post-punk territory with a softly hissing drum machine and a pair of guitars that start off dreamy, then blur into distortion as Bates croons “The years come like the beautiful sun / The stillness of stone,” and despite the propulsion of beats and bass, it’s a perfect description of the song itself: sunny, yet still. From there, the album progresses from the hypnotic space rock of “Mixed Choir” to the moody but psychedelic post-punk of “Antipathy Whisper” to avant-garde folk on “Where Vivid Bloomed” and “Ebbing All the Years”, finally ending with the tranquil drones and flute-like ambience of “Ghost Blocks”. Though shifting unpredictably from experimental abstraction to conventional song-structure and back again, there’s never a moment that seems deliberately noisy or difficult; neither is there ever a departure from the overarching sonic and lyrical themes of tranquil but melancholy heat. Especially noteworthy is Bates and Becker’s ability to conjure moods as somber as a Joy Division release without once having to resort to clichés of sound or image. This isn’t music for candlelit rooms or foggy graveyards, but proof that sun-spattered city streets and full daylight are just as suitable for moody contemplation as any stereotypical gothic landscape.
The second disc, now titled Subway Sun, is even more eclectic than its predecessor, though it captures the mood so seamlessly that there’s little evidence it wasn’t part of the original opus. “Star Pool, Milky Way” opens things on a darker note with electric guitar drones creaking like a rusty hinge in an old horror film, but “All New” is a gorgeous dream, delicately picked guitar notes piling up onto themselves and building an ocean of sustained textures while Bates’ croons echo languidly back and forth like a school of sunfish. “Phantom Music” manages to be both soporific, thanks to its stony organs, and wonderfully emotive, thanks to the interplay between Becker’s melodian and Bates’ vocals. Likewise, “Broken” uses layered whistles and hand percussion to achieve an exotic sensuality, but Bates’ singing is just strong enough to keep things from floating off into space music territory, rendering the juxtaposition of ethereal music and earthy vocals all the more powerful. If “Broken” is like a desert mirage, then “Song-Like in the Dead Night” is a cathedral epiphany, splintering light cascading through jagged stained glass as Bates’ voice drifts through cavernous reverb. “Five Songs” ends the album like old stone warmed by noonday sun, with organs joining soft strums as a glockenspiel clangs slowly, deeply, languidly. Summer Salt & Subway Sun is a hard album to wake up from, but it’s a powerfully affecting release that creates a completely unexpected mood from the usual post-industrial building blocks. Play it in the afternoon on days when it’s too hot to move.
by Steve Mecca (Chain D.L.K., 29 Dec, 2008)
I have to admit, I’m one of those people who was more familiar with the name of Eyeless In Gaza than their material. They seemed to be one of those seminal bands who influenced a lot more artists who became popular than achieving widespread popularity themselves. Perhaps it was their ever-changing musical directions that made me view them as a whirling playground roundabout; already set in motion spinning and I just never felt motivated to jump aboard. So I treated myself to a crash course on the group’s history via their rather comprehensive website to play catch-up, and was rather impressed with what I found.
I knew Martyn Bates was involved with Eyeless but my exposure was limited to his “Murder Ballads” project with M.J. Harris (Scorn) which I really enjoyed. I was not familiar with the other half, Peter Becker. I also didn’t know that Eyeless In Gaza began as an industrial/experimental outfit (Antagonistic Music/Dissonance) releasing tapes as early as 1980. What with their various genre explorations from avant-folk to pop, funk, improvisational, experimental, isolationist, and so many other sonic permutations, the band has a rich and varied musical history, not only within the confine of their own project, but also in conjunction with other artists that include Anne Clark, Deirdre Rutkowski (This Mortal Coil), Lol Coxhill, Bill Laswell, Mick Harris, Genesis P. Orridge, In Embrace, and numerous others.
If Eyeless In Gaza was divided to a simple equation (practically impossible I imagine), Martyn Bates would seem to be the pop-folky half of the band, while Peter Becker, seemingly the more avant-garde element. But the superficial assessment is merely that; it is the combination of the two that makes Eyeless In Gaza the eclectic entity it really is. The juxtaposition of Bates’ vocal style (warm and soulful Brit folk-pop) with often uncategorizable musical arrangements is indeed quite a contrast. The atmosphere and ambience shares equal importance with the melodic and lyrical content. Improvisation is as important as structure. Minimal passages are as weighty as cascading sheets of thick sonic substance. There is really no separating the elements here, even if one composition seems to favor a certain set of elements more than another.
I get the impressions that SUMMER SALT & SUBWAY SUN is meant to be taken as a whole work, and not separate tracks, or even separate albums. While by no means a restrospective, it would seem to sum up a good portion of what Eyeless In Gaza is all about, perhaps even more important, what they’re about NOW. The 2 CD set was originally released in 2006 on another label, limited to 1000 copies. Between then and now, the only other Eyeless In Gaza releases were previous albums remastered and a book of lyrics. I don’t know how the original release of SUMMER SALT & SUBWAY SUN was packaged, but this one comes in a nice heavy duty glossy colorful box with two heavy duty glossy colorful cardboard sleeves and a glossy yellow lyric and instrumental credit booklet. (It helps if you favor the color yellow, particularly “golden yellow” on your color chart as that is the predominant color throughout.) I would have liked to have the initial limited release with the extra CD, “Wildcat Fights” to review, but there were only 400 copies of those and they’re probably long gone. Besides, that would be more like telling you what you can’t have, rather than what you can.
Rather than dissecting tracks, I’d rather give an overall impression of SUMMER SALT & SUBWAY SUN. Although not present on every track, I think it’s important to really enjoy Martyn’s vocal style to appreciate music of the music on these CDs. If you’re unfamiliar with it and you don’t care for a sweet, pure emotional, often delicate, nearly commercial voice, you would be best to spend your money elsewhere. You would be missing a lot of interesting music, but the Bates vox is part and parcel of the package. In the music there are shoegazing elements, post-punk elements, semi-psychedelic, ambient folk, industrial beats, gentle folk pop, cinematic soundscapes, Eastern motifs, and more. It’s really quite an eclectic pastiche. One comparison that comes to mind in terms of an artist who mixes an accessible vocal style with an experimental format is David Sylvian. Although the bulk of Sylvian’s output keeps closer the commercial song format, there are parallels in mixing an emotional vocal style with musical improvisation and unusual ambiences. SUMMER SALT & SUBWAY SUN exhibits a wide diversity of sound palettes and there are numerous passages on the CDs that may seem more like anything BUT what you might associate with Eyeless In Gaza. Then again, the unexpected is what they built a career on. These are two very moody, atmospheric CDs that provide a challenging, yet rewarding listen. Every track may not resonate with you, but there is enough excellent material here to call this an essential Eyeless In Gaza purchase, especially if there is a lack of their albums in your collection.
by ? (Babysue.com, November 2008)
Eyeless In Gaza is Martyn Bates (voice, instruments) and Pete Becker (instruments, voice). Summer Salt & Subway Sun presents a wealth of odd music … packed inside in a typically elaborate Beta-lactam Ring package. The discs are housed in a colorful glossy box … with each having its own thick cardboard sleeve inside … plus a thick glossy yellow lyric booklet. (Note that the first 400 copies include a numbered insert and bonus album entitled Wildcat Fights.) Eyeless In Gaza songs have a strangely distant quality and yet much of the music is remarkably accessible. Bates and Becker seem to enjoy treading in and out of accessible territory while often allowing the ship to go off track into all kinds of unchartered areas. Some of these songs seem to have a slight Middle Eastern influence … while others sound more exotic in nature. Minor chords are integral to the overall sound. The vocals are smooth and restrained … sometimes seeming to serve as somewhat of a narrative to the music. There’s a lot to take in here … a total of 21 tracks. Our initial favorites are “Whitening Rays,” “Before Beginning,” “All New,” and “Song-Like in the Dead Night.” Soft, moody, intricate, and provocative.
by ? (Psychemusic.org, late 2008 ?)
Eyeless In Gaza is a band with a starting point and past in the eighties. It is a individualistic duo consisting of Martyn Bates (from which I once heard the very interesting cooperation with M.J.Harris called “Murder Ballads (Incest Songs)” of weird dark folk tales, a double album worth checking out) here with Pete Becker.
This is a luxury box with two CDs with a comparable range of a specific independent style, of which more or less all keeps the 80s/post 80s feeling, of a certain ambient post-industrial darkness surrounding the project. With no doubt Martyn’s soft voice has something charming in the sinister, a rare warmth in a cold environment, without breaking out the winter. No song really comes out completely even when the song structure brings certain emotional movements in the structure, the ambient instrumental environmental structure dominates more in the end, sometimes with driven rhythms, first “rocking” (in the traditional sense of the word) until in a close-your-eyes improvised underground indie-psychedelia way. The percussion sounds cold, industrial, electronic from a cold and harsh sphere and space, it can also drives the mood up hypnotically, from the depth of night, or pulsating with more bodily appearance, motor-like or with up tempo grooviness. Lots of improvised guitars (electric guitars and bass mostly) are cleverly multilayered with individual differences in movements but with the same speed. Sometimes more cosmic ambient keyboards are added too. All that become texturised, droning, slightly echoing, adopted in the same space. The second CD has some acoustic parts, of which “One-legged” is the only completely acoustic track with guitars and flute, showing well Martyn Bates sensitivity. I miss sometimes the lyrical or some textual context, so that all sounds more like a musical improvisation and vision.
This is the standard 2CD edition of 600 copies. 400 copies contain the bonus album “Wildcat Fights”.
by Matthew Amundsen (Brainwashed.com, 16 November, 2008)
Eyeless In Gaza’s latest release is a two-album set bundled in a colorful and lavish hinged box. The discs each come in an oversized, book-bound jacket and, along with a thick lyric booklet, make for an impressive package. It’s a shame, then, that the music isn’t nearly so stunning as the presentation.
Although they were completed a year apart, these two albums mine remarkably similar territory. The sparkling production values are noticeable, but the result is that all of the rough edges have been polished away, leaving a somewhat uniform sheen to even the most disparate tracks. Not helping matters are small things like field recordings that are too glossy to lend any real texture or canned drums and dated keyboard sounds that appear throughout these songs. Sometimes Martyn Bates’ over-earnest singing borders on melodrama, and his upfront delivery doesn’t change much from song to song. In smaller doses it’s fine, but over the course of two albums, some sort of significant variation would have been nice.
Yet the real problem is that these albums lack any real urgency or excitement. Despite the strong, multifaceted arrangements and attention to detail in the mix, these songs take the safe road far too frequently and don’t take enough chances. With too much of an emphasis on delicate atmospheres, yearning vocals, and strained beauty, noticeable tempo changes or even a tiny bit of genuine abrasion would go a long way toward making these albums more dynamic and fulfilling. The sameness in mood and execution simply wears thin.
Even so, there still are some enjoyable moments to be found on these recordings. From Summer Salt, “Whitening Rays” combines many of Gaza’s best qualities and fuels anticipation for what follows, while ”Antipathy Whisper” is probably this album’s most upbeat and fully realized song. Despite their similarity, Subway Sun has slightly better tracks, yet isn’t without its drawbacks. “Antiphony Whispers” begins with great textures, but the excessive delay and reverb on the drums makes it sound like an experiment from twenty years ago. But “Zeal” possesses real purpose and exuberance, followed by the instrumental “One-Legged,” which uses tapes and manipulated guitar to create the most engaging track of either album.
These albums are by no means terrible, just a bit too polite and boring. The lush yet undifferentiated production unfortunately makes the songs somewhat bland and forgettable, leaving me wishing for something with a little more bite.
by Paolo Bertoni (el sueño del esquimal, February 15 2007)
En toda una sorpresa se convirtió esta nueva publicacion de la mítica banda londinense Eyeless in Gaza, después 26 años de carrera que los ha llevado desde el post-punk, pasando por estilos como la electrónica experimental, el avant-folk y la oscuridad. Siempre con las expresivas vocalizaciones de Martyn Bates a la palestra y los ambientales teclados de Peter Becker sonando al final de la habitación, hoy nos entregan un extraño disco en una limitada edición de 1000 copias.
Un sonido que con el tiempo se hace más profundo y expansivo, teclados y guitarras se van desplazando con precisión y sentimiento, mientras Bates nos susurra las más bellas letanías que hablan de frustracion y desencanto. Una magnífica historia que aún no tiene final.
by Denis Boyer (Feardrop)
Il n’est pas vraiment aisé de classer la musique d’Eyeless In Gaza, et cette particularité, qui réjouit les deux musiciens Martyn Bates et Peter Becker, est l’effet de leur profonde inventivité plutôt que la poursuite d’une singularité fonctionnant à vide. Pas de surenchère étonnante dans la musique d’Eyeless In Gaza, jamais, mais plutôt l’étonnante luxuriance d’un jardin embrumé. En réécoutant plusieurs des premiers albums, en particulier Pale hands I loved so well, on comprend que si l’esthétique de leur période de conception (le début des années 80) se laisse entendre, elle ne constitue pas l’essentiel de leur couleur. Ainsi en va-t-il des plus magnifiques disques de froideur minimaliste (Eno, The Cure…). L’univers d’EIG se construit de mille formes toujours accordées. Les instruments, nombreux, de l’électrique à l’acoustique, électroniques parfois, les sons concrets et abstraits, forment la matière d’un monde mélancolique jusque dans ses ballades les plus éclairées. La voix de Martyn Bates, éternellement fraîche, complète ce tableau de printemps pluvieux. Si de nombreux éléments folk se reconnaissent parmi ceux composant la musique du duo anglais, ils n’en constituent pas la réduction, comme Becker et Bates ont voulu le montrer avec cet album très attendu (le précédent, Song of the beautiful wanton, publié par Soleilmoon, date de 2001). Aller à contre-courant de la vague folk qu’ils ont précédée, c’est en fait un projet qui n’a pas dû leur sembler bien pénible tant leur musique est riche de vagues, d’images acoustiques, de vibrations, de drones, d’humidités enrichissant le paysage. Summer salt and subway sun montre les facettes du prisme Eyeless In Gaza, des mélodies qui éclosent d’orgues, de cordes de guitare arrondies et arrosées de réverbération, de flûtes, de fredonnements enrobant le chant splendide de Martyn Bates, chargé d’une expression universelle de l’intimité. Ces mélodies, précieuses comme une brise, ont la même force d’évocation, des plus enjouées aux plus sombres, le morceau 3-D pictures rappelant les collaborations de Martyn Bates avec Mick Harris / Lull et avec Troum plus récemment. Atmosphérique, tellurique, cosmique, solaire, la musique d’Eyeless In Gaza est tout cela à la fois, ici plus encore, dans la lumière de ce que l’on ressent comme un moment éminemment crucial.
by Paolo Bertoni (Blow Up # 103)