Review: Martyn Bates - Unsung (2012)


artist: Martyn Bates
release: Unsung
format: CD
year of release: 2012
label: Ambi­val­ent Scale
dur­a­tion: 41:51

detailed info: dis​cogs​.com

I’m just going to keep on push­ing Martyn Bates until you’re sick of it, and then con­tinue doing it. Although he’s surely not the only one deserving this unen­vi­able status, he’s the first per­son I think of when I con­sider artists with severely under­rated careers. Bates had been mak­ing music since the late sev­en­ties, most fam­ously as half of Eye­less in Gaza, span­ning genres from noise to pop, rock to ambi­ent, and his staple influ­ence: folk.

His latest album Unsung is in the lat­ter cat­egory, though all of these except “Wait and See” are ori­ginal songs by Bates. If any­thing, this album is stripped: the lion’s share of it is just Martyn and his gui­tar. It’s power­ful singer/songwriter stuff from one of the most recog­nis­able voices around, and there is a fresh­ness in a lot of these songs that is remark­able given the ubi­quity of the genre, as well as the fact that Bates has been mak­ing music for so long. That said, the strongest par­al­lel is between this album and Bates’ solo albums around the year 1990, par­tic­u­larly the superb Let­ters to a Scattered Fam­ily. This new one is less bom­bastic, more sub­dued, and doesn’t imme­di­ately stand out when con­sidered in the con­text of Bates’ œuvre.

The strength of Unsung is in the indi­vidual tracks, with “Caustic” and “Wait and See” hav­ing par­tic­u­larly strong melod­ies. The title track has some­what of a darker grav­ity in its refrain, and is also one of the high­lights here. My favour­ite must be “Muted Music”, with its bright uplift­ing refrain. “Love Came to My Door” deserves a final men­tion: an a capella song where subtle reverb and echo effects cre­ate some­thing of a min­imal ambi­ent back­drop in places.

Unsung may not be Bates’ best or most ground­break­ing album, but it’s a great addi­tion to his dis­co­graphy, espe­cially since we haven’t had a full-length album of new solo mater­ial in quite a while. It’s also a great echo of what Bates can do in an access­ible gui­tar + song style. How­ever, I hope we can also expect some more work where he dives back into either his folk/ambient cros­sov­ers, or his stripped down synth song style of the Let­ters Writ­ten albums.

Reviewed by O.S.

Track­list:

1. Years (5:20)
2. Caustic (4:00)
3. Wait And See (3:35)
4. All The Days ‘Round (3:30)
5. Unsung : The Sun Knows (4:02)
6. Muted Music (5:01)
7. No One (4:10)
8. To Read Your Way (3:36)
9. Love Came To My Door (3:21)
10. And This The Day (5:12)