Eyeless In Gaza
All Under the Leaves, the Leaves of Life
(ASR 021, July 1996, Cd)
(Ptolemaic Terrascope, March 1997)
Melodramatic fragility shot through with romantic vitality is something that early 80s band Eyeless in Gaza always excelled at, their albums ‘Photographs as Memories’ and ‘Pale Hands I Loved So Well’ perfectly encapsulating an all too brief period back then when improvisation as a result of clever arrangement seemed to bode well for a renaissance of imagination in independent British pop music. I hesitate to say “they’re back” when I’m none too sure that they’ve ever been anywhere, but the original duo of Martyn Bates (vocals, keyboards and guitars) and Peter Becker (drums, bass, percussion and effects) have recently released a new album on the revered World Serpent imprint (of Unit 717 Seager Buildings, Brookmill Road, London SE8 4HL) entitled ‘All Under the Leaves, the Leaves of Life’ which includes a truly outstanding arrangement of the (traditional) title track, all ghostly atmospheres and strummed semi-acoustic of the type guaranteed to make me cream my coffee. Elsewhere, careening vocal laments and featherlight transparencies conspire to create grainy sonic landscapes of varying degrees of memorability, and the band even have the temerity to pull in fractal glimpses of spaced-out ambience (c/f ‘Damning Yourself Broken’): brilliant stuff, by a pair of artists in full command of their idiom who richly deserve a reintroduction to the 90s marketplace […].
by Gil Gershman (Big Takeover, #40, 1996)
Martyn Bates and Peter Becker have challenged ears and set souls alight as EIG since 1980. After numerous misguided attempts at tailoring their exquisite ‘pop’ for mainstream palates, EIG disappeared. The duo’s glorious re-emergence finds them expanding on the brittle electronic folk of 1995’s Bitter Apples and the indescribable experimenta of 1994’s Saw You in Reminding Pictures. Bates has an utterly unique voice and lyrical cadence, a soaring counterpart for his and Beckers’ intricately woven organic and electronic instrumentation. Every song carries like a holistic message borne from High on the breeze. The refinement and grace of EIG bears no comparisons. ‘Three Ships’ is simply transcendant. EIG are a treasure, as uncommon and stunning today as ever.
by Vaughan Simons (Misfit City, August 1998)
Still undimmed after years of following a winding path from visionary post-punk to surreal pop, and through to a beautiful breed of semi-ambient outsider-folk, Eyeless In Gaza continue to blossom in their triumphant 1990s renaissance. They’re also as restless as ever – following soon after their Bitter Apples album (with its sustained autumnal mood) All Under The Leaves, The Leaves of Life rings the sonic changes track by track.
Indeed, Eyeless seem as happy to draw on their post-punk past as they are to explore the ghostly folk that’s left an impressive stamp on their recent music. ‘Monstrous Joy’ opens the album and … God help us, it’s 1981 again! Joy Division bass rumbles, spindly single-note synths, buzzingly active electronic drums. Yet despite the timewarp, this is no Xerox copy of those years. Instrumentally, it’s a skilfully layered slice of pop atmospherics: lyrically, emotions are conveyed much more directly. Gone are the allusions to nature, but the atmosphere holds a definite frost in the air – “here is a sorrow that owns me, here is a sorrow that speaks.”
‘Struck Like Jacob Marley’ (despite the Dickensian title, a highly contemporary standout) does nothing to ease the chill. Led by rumbling bass guitar and defiantly noisy and distorted electric guitar, the lyrics are upfront advice to a friend consumed by cynicism – “it’s almost as though you have no positive view / and the old warmth is going, even though you don’t wish it to … .” Hard words.
Meanwhile, the sonic adventures just keep on coming. ‘Fracture Track’ is a mesmerising and bloody assault on the Eyeless sound. A violently struck, hypnotic rhythm guitar riff is blasted on all sides by discordant drones and buzzes: there are no drums, yet it sounds huge, and Martyn Bates pushes out a harsh-edged, ferocious vocal. “Blasted and blinded to chaos … / riding an animal hatred … / forcing such a numb and wasting path for you to blithely tread.” The violent and nihilistic imagery only adds towards making this the darkest, most fearsome track Eyeless In Gaza have ever recorded.
The traditional ‘Leaves of Life’, as arranged by Eyeless, sounds like a less wasted Flying Saucer Attack turned on their heads. The vocals and spartan folk acoustics take place up close, whilst the unsettling ambience – provided mainly by startlingly severe treatment and distortion of electric guitars and other electrical interferences – scares the life out of you in the background. Gothic folk at its best. And trip-hop? Well, OK, nearly. ‘Answer Song and Dance’ definitely possesses a dark, nervous trip-hop undercarriage, with a slow, menacing beat, cool electronic sheen and Martyn’s vocals relayed through digital effects and compression: more experiments in new sound are going on here.
‘Three Ships’, another arrangement of a traditional piece, is perhaps the most reassuringly familiar Eyeless In Gaza track here, comprising a solo vocal over Peter Becker’s long churchy organ notes (“all the black keys”, as they once called it). Even here, though, the second part of the track becomes subject to the unsettling aural sculptures of pervasive otherworldly drones, sonic interferences and sinister electronic pulses. It sounds like a late 90’s version of one of the frankly peculiar little improvised instrumentals that have littered Eyeless B-sides and rarities in the past: but, satisfyingly, it’s an example of technology finally catching up with the duo’s ambitious musical vision, so that they can finally express their experimental sides to the full.
It’s tempting to see this album as the second side of the coin flipped by Bitter Apples last year. If the former was the familiar world of acoustic alchemy, natural imagery and the avant-folk song, then All Under The Leaves… sees Eyeless In Gaza striking out for new challenges: testing their own musical limits, and casting off the gauze of allusion and allegory to put forward sometimes difficult lyrical statements directly. And while, on Bitter Apples, vibrant colours were all around and there was a last gasp of summer’s warmth, …Leaves… is winter-cold. Challenging, but ultimately beautiful when viewed in the harshest of frosts.
Since unexpectedly bursting back into life in 1993, Eyeless In Gaza have been immensely prolific. But as their continuing string of albums in the comeback sequence show, quality has remained high: and Bates and Becker’s desire to move forward and experiment – while retaining Eyeless’ essential character – remains intact and proud.
by Stewart Mason (allmusic.com)
Thuddingly pretentious album title aside, 1996’s All Under Leaves Leaves of Life proves that Eyeless in Gaza did the right thing in reuniting in the mid-’90s. Less a rerun of the duo’s older sounds than an interesting new juxtaposition of elements from throughout the first six years of their career, this album features the harsh electronics of the earliest Eyeless in Gaza singles (“Struck Like Jacob Marley” and “Fracture Track” are as noisy as anything they’ve ever done), the delicate, almost folkish minimalism of their best work (“Morning” and “Damning Yourself Broken”, in particular, could be on Rust Red September), and the pop-oriented keyboards of their mid-’80s singles (“Answer Song and Dance”, “Passing and Distance View”). The twin highlights come at the end, with the gorgeous “Three Ships”, a minimalist organ piece that recalls Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air, and “As Was”, a lovely acoustic guitar and voice coda to a mysterious, intriguing album.