Fireworks & Jewels / The Colour of Amber
(A-Scale ASR 053, October 12, 2015, Cd)
by Jeff Penczak (Soundblab, 2015-11-17)
The Eyeless in Gaza frontman’s third solo album in as many years was recorded on the Greek isle of Evia during the recent economic and political crises. These uncertainties have inflected these sparse recordings, adding an aura of tension and unease to the arrangements.
Opener ‘Born Tomorrow’ weds Bates’ lilting vocals to Elizabeth S’s banjo backing and subtle harmonies, placing us in a dreamy, Shirley Collins state of mind. ‘Faith Stars’ brings Bates’ acoustic plucking to the fore, Bert Jansch-style, and I particularly enjoyed Alan Trench’s bowed cymbals and sky and sea tapes practically enveloping us with ocean spray throughout ‘Long After’.
Bates’ chameleon-like vocals shift and sway to serve the song, from the intimate, almost-whispered ‘Away’ to the more ambient ‘Embers, Starry Tapers’. But before we can get too comfortable, he hits us between the eyes with the ferociously strummed, huffing-and-puffing performance of ‘Belong’, as if he’s being chased down a dark alley by something wicked, wondering “how are you safe?”
Elsewhere, ‘Shielded/Yielding’ is a tender love ballad (“I believe you to be love/n I’ll raise you up/I’ll raise you high...”) intermingling acoustic guitar with Trench’s electronic feedback and treatments, and ‘Remembering’ and the title track have dreamlike qualities that imbue the album with an eerie aura of spirits reflecting off candlelight, whispering to us through Bates’ own haunted vocals.
Overall, a haunting experience that invites us into Bates’ lair to share his dreams and emotions, stripped bare and delivered, unfettered, in all their naked honesty.
by Paolo Bertoni (Blow Up # 210, Nov 2015)