Electronic as opposed to acoustic. Urban rather than pastoral. Instrumental instead of vocal. Drums in the place of acoustic guitars. Third Eye Foundation vs Matt Elliott. There are a lot of differences between the two projects: there is still a lot of anger (often under-stated) in both of the recording personas. Under his own name, Matt Elliott has charted a course to the point now where he is, arguably, the new Leonard Cohen: his voice has steadily deepened, the guitar style a similar busy flamenco inspired strum and his albums tend to have the word ‘Songs’ in the title. He has been releasing this solo work at fairly regular intervals for the past 15 years or so – having sort of retired the Third Eye Foundation at that point Elliott has only occasionally utilised the name since then – the last 3EF album was The Dark in 2010.
It’s fair to say that there was a gap left by Elliott’s shift to introspective, acoustic ruminations, one that hasn’t really been filled by any single artist since. 3EF’s roots lay in the Bristol ‘shoe-gaze’ sound pioneered by Flying Saucer Attack, but with added beats and a crushing density often stemming from choral voices, aligned with some of the best song titles out there. It was a sound that evolved over a sequence of exceptional albums – Ghost, You Guys Kill Me and Little Lost Soul – before Elliott moved on. However Wake The Dead is arguably the closest he (or anybody) has come to that sound since, except this time he is using other musicians which does put a surprising spin on the music.
This doesn’t mean Matt Elliott has decided to resurrect an old MTV format and record 3EF Unplugged – but I think that artistically he doesn’t necessarily want to return to the old ways of making Third Eye Foundation albums, even if he wants to bring back the sound. As you might expect, the drums feel a little different now there is a human behind the kit rather than a programmer on the beats but all credit to Raphaël Séguinier for retaining the multi-layered rhythms: it’s very impressive work.
Given that 3EF were always very political sounding – under the often jokey song titles there was equally a bristling sense of rage – it is possible to connect Elliott’s decision to bring the name back to the recent seismic changes in the political landscape. The Brexit vote has no doubt had an effect on him, as a British musician living in France and it may be that at this point words have failed him, and he’s got to go back to the old familiar in the Third Eye Foundation. The opening title track does drop us back in to the world of 3EF as if nothing has really changed – the beats are still relentlessly steady, the atmosphere relies on the ethereal choir utilised many times before and there are any number of odd sounds flying across the stereo plain. Nothing has changed – or perhaps everything has changed.
Whatever the motivation, it’s great to have Third Eye Foundation back, and with an album that measures up to the earlier work (it’s only “That’s Why” with it’s ‘hate them fucking pigs’ sample that feels out of place in such company). It’s been a long gap between albums, but it’s worth time away to come back re-energised and it feels like that has what happened with Wake The Dead. Perhaps there is a future where both projects can co-exist together. In any rate, putting the guitars and songwriting to one side for a moment, this is the return of the other Matt Elliott at his inspired best. (Jeremy Bye)