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Eyes & No Eyes
Eyes & No Eyes Jody Beth , April 1st, 2014 08:45

Brighton art-schoolers Eyes & No Eyes come armed with intriguing references. Their name is both a nod to a W.S. Gilbert "musical entertainment' and a children's story from a 1799 collection, and their songs have titles that hearken back to English folk songs ('Blackwaterside') and J.G. Ballard dystopian novels (The Drowned World). Willkommen Records' promotional material for Eyes & No Eyes' album name checks former Can frontman Damo Suzuki and denotes the band's passion for explosive noise and free improvisation. The myth-making is impressive, but the music itself isn't quite strong enough to support it.

Eyes & No Eyes begins promisingly, with bass that sounds like the dubby, repetitive intervals of Holger Czukay on Can's early 1970s albums. 'Breathe In' soon settles into a driving 4/4, where Becca Mears's cello and Tristam Bawtree's guitar vie for lead position. Around the 5:43 mark, a lovely wash of distortion kicks in. 'Autocrat' has a similar moment of innervating distortion, giving the record an infusion of punk when it threatens to get too polite. The militaristic drums and insistent strumming that open 'Hidden Thieves' give way to Bawtree's vocals doubling with the guitar, creating a nice movement that segues into an extended cello-and-guitar shoegaze wall of noise, which the band milks to good effect as the drums return and pick up the track's momentum.

When it's just voice and guitar, or cello and guitar, as we hear on 'Idiot Icarus,' Eyes & No Eyes feels more generic. The cello, as most people play it, is not a versatile instrument: it only leans to one side of the spectrum of moods, and that's the one that includes "gloomy" and "melancholy". On an album that aims to be experimental, the cello's variation in color is lacking. The same applies to Bawtree's pleasant but undynamic voice. As the lead instrument, it's his steady axis that the band (particularly the exciting rhythm section) revolves around, and he could stand to have a more engaging presence.

With the second half of Eyes & No Eyes, the change in tenor does begin to emerge for both vocal and cello, if only temporarily. 'Rust' has a few energetic cello figure-eights in the bridge; Bawtree's phrasing 'Old Crow' and 'Blackwaterside' is sensitive, less mannered than on the rest of the album. Ultimately, Eyes & No Eyes is an agreeable post-rock redux with some beguiling krautrock touches and a talented rhythm section, but those looking for more, such as the "free improvisation" that brought the band together, will go home hungry.