Monday, April 14, 2008

Third Eye Foundation, SEMTEX and GHOST

Linda's Strange Vacation, 1996; reissued by Domino; out of print

6 tracks, 48:26

Domino/Merge, 1997; out of print, but included in its entirety on disc one of COLLECTED WORKS

7 tracks, 47:39

Bristol has produced a lot of intriguing music, from the Pop Group to trip-hop to the space rock of AMP and Flying Saucer Attack. But Matt Elliott, who collaborated with those last two, probably produced the most interesting and idiosyncratic of all Bristol music. These two early releases are performed by Elliott as Third Eye Foundation. He is assisted on both by his then-girlfriend, Debbie Parsons. She later went on to perform as Foehn; indeed, one track on GHOST is credited to Foehn, though Elliott probably participated in its creation. Now, on to the records!

SEMTEX accomplishes on opening track "Sleep" what Kevin Shields had been promising for a while: drum 'n'bass/shoegazer fusion. It's an odd mix, but it works, with the blistering beats cushioning the piercing feedback-drenched guitar. The really amazing thing is how full this sounds despite being recorded on a four-track! A guitar, a Roland Workstation, some effects, Parsons' vocals, and the four-track are the only things used on these tracks, yet it sounds rich and fully produced. "Still-Life" finds Parsons' beautifully ethereal vocals accompanying another blissfully distorted guitar. The beats are slowed here, and are a cross between tribal pounding and fractured breaks. "Dreams On His Fingers" is even more ethereal, with Parsons' lovely vocals buried under layers of fuzz and crackle and gentle cymbal-heavy percussion. "Next Of Kin" is back to harsher territory, with Parsons evoking the sirens of myth while Elliott creates waves of tension. The beats here come across as tribal-influenced drum 'n' bass. The surprising "Once When I Was An Indian" is unlike any other track on SEMTEX. It is a slowly evolving slice of dark ambience that features extremely spare percussion, ringing tones that could be synth or guitar based (it's VERY hard to tell), and Parsons chanting wordless vocals. Think the Cocteau Twins gone dub and you're somewhere close to the mark. It is one of the finest examples of dark ambient/isolationism ever recorded. "Rain" ends the album with gentle cascading sounds evoking its title, fading in a fog of shimmery electronic raindrops and distortion. While it is very rare, SEMTEX is an essential album, transcending post-rock's promise to a whole new level of studio-based perfection. It also hasn't dated one bit, remaining an oddly timeless album.

An equally rare album followed SEMTEX. Entitled IN VERSION, it consisted of Elliott's remixes of AMP, Flying Saucer Attack, Hood, and Crescent. This will be reviewed once I acquire it (which, since I have yet to find it for under $50, may be a while).
(UPDATE AUGUST 2010:I finally got a great copy of IN VERSION for under $15! Review coming soon!)

Following IN VERSION, Elliott plunged further into electronics with GHOST. The guitar noise remains, but it doesn't play as central a role as it did on SEMTEX. It shares equal time (and is indeed overshadowed at times) with a sampler, and Elliott has upgraded to an eight-track. Surprisingly, GHOST has a much dirtier sound than SEMTEX, but it works in its favor. Featuring songs with titles like "Corpses As Bedmates", "Ghosts...", and "Donald Crowhurst" (whose tragic story makes for interesting reading), you can tell you're in for a much more somber listen than SEMTEX. Foehn's track, "The Star's Gone Out", is the only diversion into pure noise assault, but it's a stunning and evocative piece. It is also one of only two beatless tracks, "Donald Crowhurst" being the second. Elsewhere, "Corpses As Bedmates" features shrieking noises which sound like some Lovecraftian horror stalking its prey; these are supported by beats that remain relatively slow, then break down into fast jungle mayhem. "The Out Sound From Way In" has fractured breakbeats and a strange whistling sound, while "I've Seen The Light And It Is Dark" is centered around some kind of ceremonial trumpet (I'm guessing). Sounds reminiscent of METAL MACHINE MUSIC*, Asian vocals singing in mournful despair (both in "What To Do But Cry?"**), sonar-esque keyboard ambience ("Donald Crowhurst"), distorted glass-breaking sounds mixed with mournful strings ("Ghosts..."); these and other unusual sounds find their way into Elliott's mix, and all combine to make another stunning Third Eye Foundation album. While this is out of print, it's included on COLLECTED WORKS. That set also contains several rare singles (unfortunately with edits) and 3EF's next two albums, YOU GUYS KILL ME and LITTLE LOST SOUL. While this latter pair does move closer to normal drum 'n' bass territory, the twisted experimental innovations are still in full force. There was also a second 3EF remix compilation, with the slightly ridiculous title I POO POO ON YOUR JUJU. That features Elliott's takes on everything from experimental composer Yann Tiersen to bizarro comedian Chris Morris. Elliott's solo work is also highly recommneded, but the most recent material is VERY far removed from his 3EF days.

*While many sources say it's a direct sample from MMM, Matt himself informed me it isn't.

**Interestingly, in an e-mail from ages ago Matt told me he had no idea what the vocalist was saying, and he used the sample based solely on its mournful tone. Later he found out one of the phrases she sings is "what to do but cry?"!

EDIT: For more Third Eye Foundation and Matt Elliott, please visit the following links: (the guestbook has an early fan post by yours truly!)


Anonymous said...

Good job prof. ~.a.~ :)
Semtex is absolutely one of the most important & original records of the nineties. Now I give you a name (eventually you don't know them, I'm terribly curious to hear what you think about them): Physics.
Take care

Anonymous said...

Hi prof. ~.a.~
well done! Semtex is absolutely one of the most important & original (& beautiful) albums of the nineties. Now I'd like to give you a name (cuz I'm curious to hear what you think about 'em): Physics.
Take care

Prof. ~.a.~ said...

You're fine! Took me a while to get used to Blogger's workings as well. Thanks for the compliments!