Eyeless in Gaza were never nearly as goth as I'd hoped they'd be, for a band with that name and those song titles. Picking up their evocatively-titled releases in import bins in the D.C. record stores in the Eighties, I vaguely hoped the band were going to sound like This Mortal Coil. They didn't, of course. But their music was something to be treasured, even if I never quite could grasp the charm of it even as I bought more import CDs from the band so many years ago.
The task of catching up with the duo's output is now a good deal easier as Cherry Red Records has just released the first truly career-spanning retrospective from the band. Called Picture The Day (A Career Retrospective 1981-2016), the 2-CD anthology is a handsome product that does as good a job as could ever have been done at capturing what this band was all about.
Split between Disc 1, which covers the years 1980-1985, and Disc 2, which features the band's material from their reunion in 1993 up until the current year, the music of Eyeless in Gaza takes on an odd uniformity. There's very little here that would indicate that the band -- Peter Becker and Martyn Bates -- ever had to compromise, or ever even slightly watered down their approach. "Much Wants More" from Disc 2 sounds remarkably organic and intimate, and not entirely unlike earlier cuts like "Tell". The band's material was always like this and what we're hearing here over the course of these 2 discs is less a progression and more a maintenance of quality, Bates and Becker pursuing their unique muses with clear-eyed precision over the decades.
Yes, Disc 1 has more familiar indie standards like "Back From The Rains" where Eyeless in Gaza very nearly touched something approaching the conventional borders of the DIY post-punk world circumscribed by their peers in the early Eighties, as well as the bright "One by One" and "Kodak Ghosts Run Amok", cuts that remain far more accessible than I perhaps remembered them as being. The best material here, stuff like "New Risen", is a kind of cousin to the more mainstream sounds of bands like China Crisis and O.M.D. in the same era. Eyeless in Gaza were, clearly, more literate, in a sense, and their goals were never the same as those other acts.
Disc 2 is more problematic. In many ways, it's comforting to sift through so much of what's here -- from the rollicking "Fracture Track" and on to the stately "You Know Nothing" -- only to find so much that's familiar for fans of this group's earlier material. Still, for the marginally more direct approach on the tracks collected on this second disc of Picture The Day (A Career Retrospective 1981-2016), there is something lost, some sense of mystery removed. Eyeless in Gaza never quite slacked up in terms of quality but the more recent stuff just doesn't feel as timeless, despite the expert playing on stuff like "Among The Blue Flowers and the Yellow" and "Summer Salt".
For the simple fact that it is the first compilation to truly survey their entire career, Picture The Day (A Career Retrospective 1981-2016) by Eyeless in Gaza is an absolutely essential anthology. And, yeah, it goes without saying that if you didn't want to do a deep-dive into this band's back catalog, you could get this set and feel like you had heard pretty much the important portions of their work. That's in no way meant to suggest that you don't investigate more Eyeless in Gaza stuff but, rather, that this compilation is so perfect on its own terms that it may very well be all that you need if you're at all new to Eyeless in Gaza.
[Photo: Philippe Carly, Eyeless in Gaza official website]