This is my first exposure to this UK-based collective centered around Gavin Miller (worriedaboutsatan) and Sophie Green (formerly of Her Name is Calla), but they have been fitfully releasing albums for more than a decade now. Their last major release, Scavengers, was back in 2016 on Time-Released Sound, so Eyes Like Pools both ends a lengthy hiatus and marks the collective’s first appearance on Athens’ sound in silence label. Much like Miller’s worriedaboutsatan project, this latest statement from Marta Mist occupies a vaguely cinematic stylistic niche where ambient and post-rock blur together, but Eyes Like Pools parts ways from worriedaboutsatan by swapping out electronic beats for Green’s achingly lovely violin melodies. While the more ambient side of Marta Mist’s current vision is appropriately warm and immersive, those pieces tend to be quite brief and the more substantial string-driven pieces are the true heart of the album (and it is a fiery heart indeed).
The album opens with a pleasant yet deceptive intro of gently rolling piano arpeggios before unveiling the first of its three major highlights: the 14-minute “Alway On.” The piece begins modestly enough with some lovely violin drones, but tendrils of melody soon start to appear and a low industrial hum gradually blossoms into a slow-moving chord progression driven by deep, warm bass tones. There are admittedly a couple of moments where it starts to err a bit too far towards soft-focus prettiness for my taste, but Green’s sliding, smearing, and occasionally snarling violin carves through the bliss haze enough to keep me transfixed regardless. More importantly, “Always On” delighted me with a very cool and unexpected ending in which echoey guitar chords slowly emerge from the ambient haze like a vengeful rockabilly ghost.
The following “Lie on Your Side” is yet another gem, as a simple call-and-response violin melody gradually swells into a complexly layered tour de force of churning drones, looping strings, buzzing bass wreckage, and howling intensity in just six minutes. I especially love how the sensuous string drones at the heart of the piece seem to expand and intensify until the surrounding structure starts to burn up. I am also quite fond of the dream-like, stuttering loop bliss of “I've Drawn you a Map,” but it sadly does not stick around very long. Fortunately, “We Have Business to Attend to” ends the album with one final epic that stretches and strains towards transcendence (or at valiantly strains towards being an appropriate soundtrack for The Rapture). In any case, “We Have Business..” is an absolutely gorgeous piece, as mournful strings ascend heavenward from an intensifying roar of choral loops, distortion, and lingering smears of decay. Notably, Miller and Green also pull one last unexpected and emphatic ending out of their hat, as the final minute sounds like a wall of amps bursting into flames as the explosive finale to a disconcertingly feral space rock gig.
This album properly blindsided me, as Green and Miller brought an intensity and inventiveness to these pieces that I definitely did not anticipate at all. If there are any other ambient collectives out there who are planning to end a long hiatus, this is the template for doing it right (and doing it memorably): no one needs another album of pretty synth drones, but everyone needs a good distortion-gnawed howl of catharsis or ecstatic release.