Martyn Bates

Letters Written/The Return of the Quiet

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This 2000 reissue compiles Martyn Bates' first two solo albums onto a single CD. Only five years separate 1982's Letters Written and 1987's The Return of the Quiet, but the two albums sound so different that this CD can't help but sound oddly disjunctive. Letters Written, ten brief tracks originally released on a 10" EP, consists of solo synthesizer reveries overlaid with some of Bates' most mannered and idiosyncratic singing. The slowly moving songs are largely interchangeable, with only the interesting stop-start patterns of "Morning Singing," the Philip Glass-like pulsing underscoring the hypnotic "Aftertaste of Old," and the haunting delicacy of the crystalline "Overflowing Look" showing any sense of sonic variety. The Return of the Quiet, by comparison, is downright lush. Bates' keyboards are still the musical focus, but they're far removed from the deliberate primitivism of his debut; the addition of a live rhythm section and strings moves the album's sound even further into an ultra-commercial variety of pop-soul than even the last couple of Eyeless in Gaza albums. Comparisons include Aztec Camera's similarly slick Love and even the first couple of Paul Young albums. If there are stylistic avenues even further removed from the chilly minimalism of Letters Written, it's hard to imagine what they could be.

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