Sun Blues

Eyeless In Gaza
Sun Blues
(A-Scale ASR 055, September 23rd 2016, Cd/download)

Review 1

by Jeff Penczak (Ptolemaic Terrascope, November 2016)

After nearly half a century performing together, Martyn Bates and Peter Becker must seem like a married couple – finishing each other’s sentences, telepathically sensing where their individual muse is leading them and effortlessly hopping on and enjoying the ride. With an extensive catalogue of well over two-dozen releases, they still sound as fresh and invigorating as that ground breaking EP, “Kodak Ghosts Run Amok” that started everything way back in 1980. Looking back to those early releases, the duo suggest their latest is a “distant cousin” to 1982’s classic Pale Hands I Loved So Well. But this is another century, and technological advances have enabled them to use their studio almost as an additional instrument, layering sounds, playing with various improvisational techniques, and offering, perhaps, a third pair of ears and hands to the proceedings.

Yet at its heart is the combination of Bates’ breathy, almost theatrical vocal styling (a little Antony Hegarty, a tad Andy McCluskey) and intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics, revealing numerous layers of meaning and intent as each verse trickles off his soothing, emotional delivery, and Becker’s inquisitive bass lines, harmonic tape manipulations, and various percussive effects. While tracks like ‘Solar Logic’ may initially sound like a simple love ballad, further listening reveals intricate harmonic vocal interweaving, funky, almost African percussives, and the perfect placement of bells and tape manipulations that demonstrate how much the studio has been welcomed in to add lustre to their creative juices.

‘Tamarisk’ envelops the listener in swirling effects and percussive embellishments that wouldn’t be out of place on a Peter Gabriel album, while ‘New Take/Notkar’ offers a harsher splash of ice water in the face, evolving out of an almost industrial percussive backbeat and syncopated guitars that push the listener towards Faust or Nine Inch Nails gut crunchers. But never ones to fall into a rut, the following ‘Longing Song’ is an uplifting, lilting lover’s plea that rises from the ashes of desolation “To bring the morning be amazed/n you’ll be mine....”

The duo occasionally include improvisational instrumentals in their albums, and the cinematic, provocative and evocative ‘Wind, Sand, Sea & Stars’ pretty much covers the gamut of the external universe – a breakneck journey through land, sea and sky, while ‘Unborn’ traverses the inner universe, wallowing, swallowing mouthfuls of life-giving amniotic fluids on the 9-month journey into a cold, shattering life that no one asked for or had any choice in bringing to fruition.

But before we get too deep, let’s enjoy the sprinkling, sparkling, shimmering flourishes of duelling ukuleles, thumb pianos and glockenspiel on the celestial ‘Juniper’, and the soft, reflective instrumental closer ‘Long Gon Pa’, full of meticulous slide and acoustic guitar and Becker’s fascinating, dreamy devices and tape loops. An imaginative, emotional, headswirling buzz to wrap up another fascinating release from the always reliable duo, who never fail to excite us while eliciting nuances of emotional responses that are all-too-rare in this cookie-cutter, commercial world of Voices, Idols, and other nameless, brainless distractions.

Review 2

by Rupert Loydell (International Times, November 2016)

Eyeless in Gaza have had several trajectories since their original lo-fi outings in Coventry and Nuneaton in the early 1980s. The duo of Peter Becker and Martyn Bates seemed to be heading towards pop at one point, but en route diverted through textural soundscapes, improvisation, avant-folk, sonic experiment and occult rock; indeed, they still visit these places. Picture the Day is a well-overdue compilation that actually covers all the band’s output, including both the Cherry Red releases from the 1980s and the self-released albums on Ambivalent Scale that have been issued since the 1990s.

The story of course starts with Ambivalent Scale and a 7 inch single, following some cassette releases. The edgy, synth-driven ‘Kodak Ghosts Run Amok’ is tucked away here in the middle of the first CD (unfortunately the superb ‘Feeling’s Mutual’ from the B-side isn’t) which selects from the band’s Cherry Red releases. Listeners are edged into the music with some of the more accessible end of things, a quick drift through some folkier songs and then the gorgeous emotive instrumental ‘Falling Leaf/Fading flower’ before restlessly moving on, from genre to genre, or more often falling between genres.

The second CD features the Ambivalent Scale recordings, and is a similar mix of work. If more recent work isn’t as familiar to me it’s mainly due to growing up and not being able to spend time with new music in the same way that being a teenage and then a student previously facilitated with the original LPs. It’s clear I need to get my act together and have a relisten – this stuff is great.

Together, the two CDs paint a broad, involving picture of this peculiar and engaging band. I like the fact it in no way pretends to be a ‘best of’ or ‘greatest hits’, but simply showcases some of the highlights from their numerous releases. I’d like to have seen the uplifting brassy pop of ‘Sun Bursts In’ here, but otherwise it is a perfect snapshot of one of my favourite bands, lovingly compiled and superbly sequenced.

Eyeless’ new CD, Sun Blues, shares one track, ‘Tamarisk’ with Picture the Day and is a set of new music from the more experimental end of things. Having said that it’s more about mood and texture than the wild excesses of the band’s early output, although ‘Ill-Star’ is intense and loud, with some great honking sax in the pulverising maelstrom of sound. Elsewhere, Martyn Bate’s warm vocals are positioned within rich, dense music that both propels and entwines the songs and the listener. There are also three instrumental vignettes, two back to back in the centre of the album, the third a coda or finale.

It takes some time to truly ‘hear’ the layers and complexities of this album, in the same way it takes time to grasp the width, breath and achievement of Eyeless in Gaza’s musical history. But time spent will be rewarded: Eyeless in Gaza remain one of the most accomplished and interesting bands to have emerged from the music-making underground post punk and postpunk. Here’s to further decades of experiment and beguilement.

Review 3

by Mike Barnes (Mojo, January 2017)

[4-stars] Martyn Bates & Peter Becker break new ground on eighteenth album.

Although Eyeless In Gaza have perennially sailed frustratingly under the radar, they have produced music of a remarkably consistent quality. The group’s trademark stripped down, concentrated combination of keyboards, guitars, percussion and vocals has latterly been augmented by more electronics and exploratory sonics, an on Sun Blues this approach has reached it apogee in these kosmische folk explorations of space and texture. On Solar Logic, Bates’s ruminative, bittersweet chorales sail across the cool, crepuscular atmosphere created by Becker’s nimble bass and gently spiralling electronics, while the singer’s acoustic guitar is more to the fore on Here I Am, Here I Am with its lyrical positivity and tasty harmonies. Wind, Sand, Sea & Stars is a vivid instrumental with majestic keyboards and the cashing of cymbals and gongs, while Bates’s intensity breaks through the surface with his background howling on Ill-Star.

Review 4

by Paolo Bertoni (Blow Up # 223, December 2016)