Eyeless In Gaza
(A-Scale 020, 1995, Cd)
by Mike Barnes (Mojo magazine, March 1996)
Eyeless In Gaza’s strength has always been in never fitting into any norm. As a thorny post-punk duo they were uncompromising but lyrical, with Martyn Bates’s serpentine, untrammelled vocals forefronted. They fizzled out in ’87 but have fizzled in again over the last few years. On Bitter Apples Eyeless have delivered their best album in 12 years, recalling their sublime, semi-forgotten apex Rust Red September. Like Bates’s recent collaborations with Bill Laswell and Derek Jarman’s former sonic collaborator Simon Fisher-Turner, it suggests his unique voice is finally getting its due recognition.
by Vaughan Simons (Misfit City, August 1998)
After seventeen years on the wildest, furthest reaches of contemporary music, Eyeless In Gaza’s time may finally have come. With the British music scene proclaiming itself as boundary-free, cross-pollination of styles is the name of the game. Experimentation is the byword. Ears are open to new sounds.
Eyeless, of course, have been doing it for ages – from industrial electronics through early-80’s sparse electronic punk, bedsit acoustic folk, a stab at a big pop sound and experiments with mechanistic ambience. Then a seven-year abeyance followed by a shock return with the modern dance-pop of Fabulous Library and an album of improvised, cinematic, ambient songs and atmospheres. Yet all, thanks to Martyn Bates’ distinctive, expressive voice and Peter Becker’s endlessly inventive musical collages, recognisably Eyeless In Gaza.
Much of Europe has been in on their greatness for years. Now that they have returned it is time that Britain listened in; particularly as, since Eyeless reformed, their career has been no nostalgic re-run of past styles, but a body of work that has engaged with the best of them in the camp marked “pre-millennial boundary-breaking zeitgeist experimentation”. Or something.
Following the head-expanding soundscape world of 1994’s Saw You In Reminding Pictures, Bitter Apples comes announced as a return to song structures and a live folk feel (acoustic guitars, bass, drums). The matured Eyeless In Gaza are now reinventing the brand of avant-folk song first heard on their Drumming The Beating Heart album over a decade ago. Lyrics such as those on ‘Bushes and Briars’ immediately announce the folk influence – “through bushes and through briars / I lately made my way / all for to hear the young birds sing / and the lambs to skip and play.”
But any hint of preciousness about such a style is dispelled by the ghostly a-capella treatment of Bates’ voice, treated with vocal effects that make him sound like a possessed changeling, wrapped in his own tingling harmonies. Martyn Bates’ voice is unique – expressive in hushing to a sense of menace, or delicate and weary, or surging with the power to hit the rafters. He occasionally retains a slight rasp, an edge, to his voice from the first punk-inflected vocals of early Eyeless. A comparison? Impossible.
‘Year Dot’ demonstrates how Eyeless In Gaza can produce powerfully rhythmic, surging music from the basis of harsh acoustic riffs, Martyn letting his voice roam over the melodies with unfettered power. But technology is not anathema to such natural surroundings, though – the track closes in a sharp crescendo of electronic interference. Contemporary experimentation mixes it further with avant-folk on ‘Jump To Glory Jane’ – zither passages are built upon bursts of white noise, klaxons, and improvised wordless vocal harmonies as just another instrument in the delicate construction. It’s a perfect demonstration of the duo–s implicit feel for building such atmospheres, and sets the tone for much of the rest of the album.
Perhaps the central track, though, is ‘To Listen Across The Sands’: powerful and urgent, built upon a crashing electronic drum pattern remorselessly pushing the rhythm forward and echoing the lyrical theme of listening to “all the mad, crashing waves.” The song would seem to be an allegory for a journey through a stormy life – “listen across the sands / to the waves drifting where you stand / and all their voices swallowing your life.” A theme that is returned to, lyrically and musically, on the title track. To an up-tempo soundtrack of syncopated guitar and percussion (plus a star appearance from a keyboard relic in Peter Becker’s armoury of sounds – the Wasp), nature’s imagery is once again summoned to describe the unpleasant aspects of life we sometimes have to wade through. “Such a bitter harvest, such a windfall falling that I can’t move … / all that I taste wastes me away – all that I’m succoured by and living on … / bitter apples … .”
This is an autumnal album in the most inspiring way – new invigorating cooler winds provoking the falling leaves and scudding clouds. And Eyeless in Gaza are long-overdue for rediscovery, yet still ripe. Pluck.
by Clive Bell (The Wire, March 1996)
Bitter Apples is new material from singer/guitarist Martyn Bates and drummer Pete Becker. Apart from a hiatus between 1987 and 92, the duo has released a steady stream of records since 1980 many on the Cherry Red label and have collaborated with Derek Jarman, Simon Fisher Turner and poet Anne Clark. In theory I guess it’s interesting that Bates wants to marry up jangly folk-rock with the deserted groaning landscapes of Isolationism In practice I find this music almost unbearable a peculiarly English form of après-Steeleye Span torture.
And I like Steeleye Span. I even like Bates’s singing, his high-pitched indie-whinging take on David Sylvian’s breathy meanderings. It’s the bloody music itself, the relentless strumming of those suspended chords that folk guitarists love so much, laid across lumbering rhythms; the rhetorical chord sequences drenched in a plastic mac of cheap reverb … . Did I mention the lyrics? “Such a crazy machination that our crazed imaginations thirst and look for truths, clutch at truths that butterfly around.” Is this a good lyric? You decide.
The best track is a secret one hidden at the end of the CD: an old, faded recording of an extremely melancholy accordion. And the brief “Sorrow Came” is an Ambient instrumental that recalls Bates’s eerie collaboration with MJ Harris, Murder Ballads (Drift). Now that was a record four chilling blasts of Isolationism, with Bates’s voice floating by like the wind blowing over the grave of Pretty Polly, murdered by her fiancé on the eve of her wedding.
by Antony Burnham (Metamorphic Journeyman)
Once they played happily in the fields of Indie Pop, when the Summer breeze blew across idyllic dreamstates, where the sun lazily warmed the world and we were young and full of anticipation. Now we are older and look back, the distance of time makes things seem oh so far away. The excitement and anticipation EIG’s music once embodied is now matured, fatter, slower yet no less wonderful for the silver threads which nestle among the darker. Indeed, like lovers, the fires of youth may have burned off, but there’s a more rounded substance which makes the music longer lasting and much more fulfilling for that.
Always enamoured by experimentalism – hell, it was partly BATESY’s fault I began to listen to material by TG, LEMON KITTENS, CABS and so on – they find now that they can doodle and mess around in the margins without feeling they should toe some pre-determined line, which gives the constructed ‘songs’ – of which there are a lot more than on recent EIG releases – a stronger, more rooted feeling, as if each piece is a work of passion, rather than a song to fill an album. But then they always have glowed supernova with passionate expression!
There are some great songs on this album – it’s far more of a song album than many of their more recent releases – not much in the way of gimmicky hook, but rather taking a warm Folkyness which is uniquely theirs. Much of the anger has gone, that driving spirit which spat and Pollocked, driven by that which in the human spirit makes us fools to others and heroes to ourselves – a kind of idealised self-righteousness, a strong sense of right and wrong totally out of step with social opinion. Replacing it is an inward expression, no less passionate, just somehow more co-ordinated.
There are some classic moments on this album – ‘To Listen Across the Sands’ will soon work it’s way into your memory, ‘Dear Light’ will endear itself to you, many of the others will gradually work their way under your skin.
MARTYN BATES & PETE BECKER invite the listener into their own intimate world of sound & image. Former EIG fans may be confused by the often seemingly improvised approach to the music, but to some of us it seems the natural, logical step forward.