Review: Martyn Bates - Unsung (2012)

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.