Looking out of London with Eyes & No Eyes

Living in London, it’s all too easy to be completely cut off from the rest of the U.K. (and even the world) when it comes to broadening your musical tastes. What can exist, you’re left to think, beyond these beautiful tower blocks, dirty streets and questionable public transport infrastructure?

Well, truth be told, you’d only have to get a train 40 minutes away to be presented with some real musical treats. Beyond the pleasance of its seafront setting and bawdy night-life, Brighton offers up some of the tastiest musical morsels outside of the M25–see previous TBJ coverage of The Playgroup Festival, Fear of Men and The Mariner’s Children for further proof.

Out this week, a Brighton band’s first physical release–the If No One Else Saw It/Flying Machine EP, pleasingly released on 7” vinyl–presents listeners with an interesting enough proposition.

The Brighton foursome. Or Octet, depending on your outlook.

The Brighton foursome. Or Octet, depending on your outlook.

Meet Eyes & No Eyes. As former tour-buddies of Toronto’s finest artsy post-rockers, Do Make Say Think, the gents and lady of Eyes & No Eyes appear to have been given a good grounding in making rich, building textures, complete with interesting and multi-layered instrumentation. Somewhat like their Canuck colleagues, too, the band employs an interesting array of both electronic and defiantly analogue manipulated sounds. Synths threaten as field recordings and warped samples simultaneously reassure, apparently at the hands of the band’s co-conspirator Woodpecker Wooliams and a tape echo unit, credited only as “Melos.”

Unlike Do Make Say Think, however, the band stretches its influences into the industrial gloom of German heavyweights Kraftwerk, employing forward-flowing and glowering 4/4 drum loops to drive its work along very British autobahns. At times, listeners would be forgiven for mistaking Eyes & No Eyes for Portishead in the Bristol trip-hoppers’ more emotionally pregnant moments, walking the same noise/music line as Sonic Youth might once have done. No more effectively is this employed, on first impressions, than on the fittingly named “If No One Else Saw It,” the EP’s A-side.

[youtube http://youtu.be/ZpzJTvCKQH0]

Perhaps surprisingly, there’s a cello, inoffensive vocal delivery, and very slightly scuzzy guitar. The drums figure into your calculations if only for the lovely moment when the toms are played with muted reverence.

You feel at home. You think to yourself: “Great. I know where this track is, where it’s been and probably where it will end up. I am finding this whole experience quite pleasant.”

It’s at this point that you inevitably find your ear casting around the darker corners of the track, which suddenly appear an awful lot dustier and larger than you immediately let yourself in for. The eddying guitar echo has been softly humming in the background until now, you realize, but has taken on a terrible, oppressive significance in the wider make-up of the song. Tom Heather’s masterful restraint behind his drum rig lets the track breathe and fester, rather than caging it in with strict percussive punctuation.

“Hello heroes of a former age / In histories I forage for your stories.”

Chief guitar tinkerer and vocalist Tristram Bawtree spins a surreal but cohesive narrative with his lyrics, taking influence from a pantheon of the band’s folkloric predecessors and more charged, modern references–he lists American author Philip Roth’s seminal work, “American Pastoral” among his literary touchstones.

Brooding but fittingly sympathetic bass lines (courtesy of Mariner’s Children collaborator and the band’s producer, Marcus Hamblett) hold the whole ensemble together in a way that means that, for all its disparate parts, Eyes & No Eyes’ sound very rarely sounds fragmented. The aforementioned cello–at the hands of Becca Mears–cuts through an overcast soundscape with what might in any other outfit be called licks, but here weave in and out of Bawtree’s obscured guitar lines and gel seamlessly with the song as a whole.

All of this is a very roundabout way of saying that, for what appears on first ear-views to be a simple exercise, Eyes & No Eyes’ first offering is in fact a multi-faceted and endlessly crafted listen.

[youtube http://youtu.be/IcFJAW8cHv8]

If No One Else Saw It/Flying Machine EP preludes a self-titled album, due for release later this year, and prepares the U.K.’s stage well for Eyes & No Eyes to take full advantage with a number of upcoming tour dates.

In a national musical landscape where all too few bands seem to want to preserve the true craft of music making, the Brighton foursome are like a breath of fresh air. Or, maybe more fittingly, a revelatory ray of light.

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