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Eyeless in Gaza, "Summer Salt & Subway Sun"

cover image Eyeless in Gaza's latest release is a two-album set bundled in a colorful and lavish hinged box. The discs each come in an oversized, book-bound jacket and, along with a thick lyric booklet, make for an impressive package. It's a shame, then, that the music isn't nearly so stunning as the presentation.

 

Beta-lactam Ring

Although they were completed a year apart, these two albums mine remarkably similar territory. The sparkling production values are noticeable, but the result is that all of the rough edges have been polished away, leaving a somewhat uniform sheen to even the most disparate tracks. Not helping matters are small things like field recordings that are too glossy to lend any real texture or canned drums and dated keyboard sounds that appear throughout these songs. Sometimes Martyn Bates' over-earnest singing borders on melodrama, and his upfront delivery doesn't change much from song to song. In smaller doses it's fine, but over the course of two albums, some sort of significant variation would have been nice.

Yet the real problem is that these albums lack any real urgency or excitement. Despite the strong, multifaceted arrangements and attention to detail in the mix, these songs take the safe road far too frequently and don't take enough chances. With too much of an emphasis on delicate atmospheres, yearning vocals, and strained beauty, noticeable tempo changes or even a tiny bit of genuine abrasion would go a long way toward making these albums more dynamic and fulfilling. The sameness in mood and execution simply wears thin.

Even so, there still are some enjoyable moments to be found on these recordings. From Summer Salt, "Whitening Rays" combines many of Gaza's best qualities and fuels anticipation for what follows, while "Antipathy Whisper" is probably this album's most upbeat and fully realized song. Despite their similarity, Subway Sun has slightly better tracks, yet isn't without its drawbacks. "Antiphony in Whispers" begins with great textures, but the excessive delay and reverb on the drums makes it sound like an experiment from twenty years ago. But "Zeal" possesses real purpose and exuberance, followed by the instrumental "One-Legged," which uses tapes and manipulated guitar to create the most engaging track of either album.

These albums are by no means terrible, just a bit too polite and boring. The lush yet undifferentiated production unfortunately makes the songs somewhat bland and forgettable, leaving me wishing for something with a little more bite.

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