(A-Scale ASR 045, November 13, 2012, Cd)
by Torsten Schäfer (Sonic Seducer, March 2013)
Es gibt Stimmen, die stechen heraus. Martyn Bates besitzt eine solche. Sein warmes, altersloses Timbre bleibt haften. Das erkannte nicht nur Anne Clark Anfang der Neunziger, die mit Bates ihre Karriere wiederbelebte und deren Zusammenarbeit auf dem Rilke-Album „Just After Sunset“ ihren Höhepunkt fand. Auch zahlreiche Fans von Eyeless In Gaza, jenem undergroundigen Post-Punk/Wave-Duo bestehend aus Peter Becker und Martyn Bates, lassen sich seit über 30 Jahren von seiner Stimme verzaubern. Parallel dazu war der Brite aus Warwickshire stetig auf Solopfaden unterwegs, auf denen er sich von den kreativen Fesseln seiner Band befreite und als avantgardistischer Singer/Songwriter folkigen Tönen huldigte. Auf seinem neuesten Werk, das erste richtige Soloalbum seit fast 15 Jahren, reduziert Bates die Songs auf das Nötigste, lässt sie jeglichen Ballast abwerfen. Zehn Lieder, in denen die Akustikgitarre ein kristallklares Fundament legt, auf dem sich die Stimme ausbreiten und über die Liebe und ihre Dynamik sinnieren kann. Es ist ein extrem intimes Album, viel minimalistischer aufgebaut als Bates’ andere Longplayer, das komplett auf die Kraft der Songs und die Stimme als tragendes Element vertraut. Folk und Singer/Songwriter sind auch hier die Eckpfeiler, doch im Gegensatz zu den amerikanischen Genrekollegen überfrachtet Martyn Bates seine Lieder nicht mit leidendem Pathos. Obwohl auch seinem Gesang ein melancholischer Moment innewohnt, schwingt in Songs wie „Wait And See“ und „Unsung: The Sun Knows“ stets eine hoffnungsvolle Note mit. Vielleicht ist dieses positive Element des Pudels Kern seiner außergewöhnlichen Stimme und Musik.English:
There are those voices who stand out. Martyn Bates has just such a quality … its warm, ageless timbre sticks. This was not only recognised by Anne Clark in the early nineties, which revived her career, with their collaboration culminating with Bates on the Rilke album “Just After Sunset”. Numerous fans of Eyeless In Gaza, that underground Post-Punk/Wave-Duo consisting of Martyn Bates and Peter Becker, continue to be enchanted by his voice for over 30 years now. In parallel, the Briton from Warwickshire was constantly on the go in a solo career which freed him from the creative shackles of his band – recreating himself as avant-garde singer/songwriter-homage in folk-tinged tones. In his latest work, the first proper solo album for almost 15 years, Bates reduces the songs to the bare minimum – and they can throw any ballast. Ten songs in which the acoustic guitar sets a crystal clear foundation on which to spread the voice and gives time to think about love and its dynamics. It is a very intimate album, much more minimalist in design than Bates’ other albums – relying completely on the strength of the songs and on the voice as emphasised key element. Folk and singer/songwriters are also the cornerstones of this oeuvre, but in contrast to the American genre colleagues Martyn Bates has weighted his songs with anguish, not pathos. Even though his singing also inhabits the melancholy moment, it can still swing away from this in songs like “Wait And See” and “Unsung: The Sun Knows” always with a hopeful note. Perhaps this positive element of the puzzle is the core of his extraordinary voice and music.
by Mike Barnes (The Wire, March 2013)
These acoustic guitar based songs largely came from sessions relating to the Twelve Thousand Days project in which Martyn Bates collaborated with Alan Trench of Orchis in the 2000’s. Though it’s also produced by Trench, Unsung has a very different feel, and it finds Bates at his most concentrated and immediate.
Bates is essentially a singer songwriter but his work in Eyeless in Gaza and other collaborations reveal he’s also adept at improvisation and manipulation of sonics. Here the latter is limited to some ambient drift and phantasmal backing vocals, which sound particularly strange on ‘And This The Day’. But essentially Unsung relies just on his voice and acoustic guitar, which is beautifully recorded with a big , full sound. At times his expansive picking recalls Bert Jansch or Roy Harper.
As a singer-songwriter Bates has a wide stylistic lexicon, ranging from soft susurrations to notes that feel wrenched out from somewhere deep. On ‘Muted Music’, he evokes the heightened poignancy of its inevitable transience. One of the album’s loveliest melodies, ‘Caustic’ is, however, a bleak look at how memories of events can differ between two people, with the song’s narrator the one left with nothing of comfort to recall.
His love of traditional music was first overtly stated on the Murder Ballads series he made with Mick Harris in the 1990’s, and the influence of Martin Carthy suggests itself here. But his own work is more in tune with the unfettered feelings that run through folk song. On Unsung, he seals his engagement with tradition on ’Love Came To My Door’, an a cappella tale shaped as a disquieting visitation rather than a cause for celebration.
Gaza stripped by Tim Peacock (Record Collector, March 2013)
Parallel to his role as half of Nuneaton’s avant-ambient post-punk duo Eyeless In Gaza, Martyn Bates has sustained a solo career of sorts, releasing almost as many solo/collaborative forays as Eyeless’ 16 studio LPs since their inception in 1980. Bates’ last outing – 2008’s five-track mini-album A Map Of The Stars In Summer – was virtually an EIG release in that it came with a book of the duo’s selected lyrics and featured contributions from Gaza co-conspirator Peter Becker. Unsung, though, is considerably more personal: a stripped-back affair culled from the sessions for Bates and producer Alan Trench’s Twelve Thousand Days project, with the emphasis on songs rather than muted abstraction.
Sonically, the backdrop is provided by Bates’ acoustic guitar(s) and embellished by occasional strokes of windswept ambient colour, but his yearning, Mark Kozelek-ish vocal style is surprisingly hypnotic. Even the sparest of these close-miked selections (the haunting traditional Wait And See, the accurately-titled Muted Music) retains a curiously uplifting quality regardless of the introspection. All The Days ’Round’s edgy vocal attack and harsh guitar tangle, meanwhile, is far too animated to be dismissed as merely “sensitive” acoustic troubadour fare.
Whether Unsung can realistically expect to warrant attention from more than the faithful is another matter, but there are certainly less satisfying curates’ eggs out there for the uninitiated to stumble upon.
Martyn Bates ‘Unsung’ & Peter Becker ‘Ambivalent Scale Tape Recordings 1979-1981? –album reviews by Deadhead (Louder Than War, September 25, 2013)
These two releases are so very very different, but if you have known and loved Eyeless In Gaza for what seems like the beginning of time then you will know they form the same gold coin. Since they linked as a musical coupling in 1980 the two have forged on experimenting with electronic sounds, forceful pop-tones, delicate folk and caustic poetic vocals. For many the voice of Martyn Bates always seemed to be the driving force of EIG. With one breath or sigh he can melt or eat your heart depending on the mood, often seemingly unaware of the musical construction behind. The man quite simply has one of the most unique voices around. Early releases allow the its extreme edginess to shine but later as here on his latest solo it is simple and beautiful. BUT, let’s not forget the unsung element that is Pete Becker as through the band’s releases and those early, very rare – often mail-swap experiments with sound and soundtrack manipulation – he produces a sublime textural backdrop which does stand in its own right as shown on this vinyl set. Though pretty sure his ‘singing’ will raise some eyebrows, but more on that later!
So, where to start? Vinyl and CD releases, real music with real packaging, an effort has been made on both counts and I for one appreciate that fact more than anything these days. Old school first though, has to be! Pete’s album is a nicely presented item as you would expect from Vinyl On Demand with the label’s usual quality pressing. On first listening realisation hits that it is a collection of unrelated material… Remnants of a forgotten time, a “mixed bag… none of it ever meant to be released” as Pete put it to me but after repeated hearings and a full immersion this record becomes an important document to the being of the band. Somehow Eyeless In Gaza were always on the fringes, a little too song-oriented perhaps to fully fit into the leftfield, post-industrial, yet too left of the field to reach the masses (though ‘Welcome Now’ almost broke through the daytime ranks and in truth should have just like many more of their vast catalogue of songs) and this album explores the creativity of their sound at its source, both in the esoteric and more commercial structural senses, albeit made with the basic equipment available at the early stages of their career. But, as with all the good artists of the time it’s the intelligence of the creator that shines through. There are cutting-edge real-time vintage lo-fi and electro-pop movements, knarly deep-down electro-acoustics which immediately make me reach for another evening of early Cabs headphone listening and more than enough visual soundtracks to fill any creative filmmaker with inspiration. ‘Arabesque’ even reminds me of Pink Industry and the guitar-work of ‘Transatlantic Flight‘ could be shimmering all over an Eighties 4AD release, let’s say Dif Juz maybe? Though the accompanying glitchy computer noise moves the track into an altogether different area, well before its time. Traces lead to memories of EIG tracks not heard for sometime, but soon to be reconciled. My one and only complaint is the ‘singing’, thankfully only included on a minimal number of songs. Tongue-in-cheek Bowie-isms, are not really part of your bag Pete, so glad any pretensions were left well behind the early Eighties!
Which leads perfectly to THE voice. A voice lifting me through many ups and downs since that time. On one of the many forays into a Record & Tape Exchange basement of wonder, i.e. vinyl pick’n’mix, a paper-sleeved 10” white label with a Cherry Red catalogue number etched in the run-outs leapt into inquisitive hands. I think it was early 1983. That record was Martyn Bates’ first solo album Letters Written with its cacophony of minimalist synth backing and a voice spitting venom and petals. It’s a record I run to still to this day when I very often simply need to leave this place and journey into mesmeric tones. It makes me gloriously unhappy (very me), moist eyes all the way through. After, there is a positive, calming effect like no other. It’s been three decades since the release of Letters Written but I personally think Unsung is its closest neighbour. Musically, not a world away although electronics are replaced with acoustic guitar but there is an air of openness which allows the great man’s voice to carry through far more than many of EIG’s recent (over the past couple of decades!) releases. As much as I adore EIG I do think their sound works best when less is more, and this album definitely fills the air with more! Mellowed, Martyn softly weaves through plucked strings and occasional effects all carefully co-produced with Alan Trench who he also records with as Twelve Thousand Days. Its ten tracks offer pristine perfection as a collection of songs, each stunningly beautiful in their own carriage of words and voice. ‘Muted Music’ is perhaps its defining lose yourself moment but in reality the album is one whole lottery-winning escape of treasure. It is so remarkable to me that Martyn, as the title here might suggest, remains ‘unsung’ to a wider audience. His music should appeal to the thinking mainstream and the minority who prefer to live under the counter. Put crudely he deserves to be heard.
Embrace Unsung, wander through the playful compositions of Ambivalent Scale Tape Recordings and enhance your existence with the entire back catalogue of Eyeless in Gaza. Your life will be richer, heart lifted and body cleansed of everyday existence. Sweet addiction will soon take hold but fear not Martyn and Pete will be waiting to feed you more.