Album reviews – Eyeless In Gaza: ‘All Under The Leaves, The Leaves Of Life’ (“rings the sonic changes track by track”)

25 Jul

Eyeless In Gaza: 'All Under The Leaves, The Leaves Of Life'

Eyeless In Gaza: ‘All Under The Leaves, The Leaves Of Life’

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.

(review by Vaughan Simons)

Eyeless In Gaza: ‘All Under The Leaves, The Leaves Of Life’
Ambivalent Scale Recording, A‑SCALE 021 (5 021958 463025)
CD‑only album
Released: 19th July 1996

Get it from:
(2018 update) original CD and 2009 Cherry Red Records reissue best obtained second-hand.

Eyeless In Gaza online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace Soundcloud Tumblr Last FM

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