The Third Eye Foundation’s Collected Works is a must for fans of ambient drum’n’bass. It includes the albums Ghost, You Guys Kill Me, Little Lost Soul, the B-sides and extras from various singles including Sound of Violence, Semtex, Fear of a Wack Planet and In Bristol With A Pistol, plus remixes and a sprinkling of new material.
The Foundation is actually all the work of one man, Matt Elliott, who cut his teeth in the Bristol maelstrom of avant garde electronica during the ’90s that would eventually give us Portished. He has a similar fascination with the effect of random sounds and intense repetitions of disconcerting noises to otherworldly effect, but pushed things far further than the more chart-friendly group. If you like Portished and wonder what they might have developed into, then this collection is well worth checking out.
At the start of the first album, Ghost, the intense, almost hypnotic rhythms suck you in as you listen to tiny changes of nuance and start to pick out straggling patterns of repetition. Most of the tracks are in the 7 to 8 minute range, giving you time to get ‘into’ them fully, and the flow between songs is very smooth.
Eventually even the hyped up beats take on a soothing edge despite their increasing complexity, fading into a kind of internal background music and bringing up emotional responses to the moods evoked. There’s a gentle rise and fall – Corpses As Bedmates offers a soothing interlude between the first track, What To Do But Cry and the third, The Star’s Gone Out.
With its melancholy organ and occasional high whirrs and whistles, the latter perfectly evokes some massive contraption wheezing and puffing as it slowly runs out of steam, while the opener sounds like someone having a punch up with a set of bagpipes, over a driving drumbeat, and none the worse for it, lots of sharp notes and deep growls over occasional passages of repressed vocals catching your attention. These are elements that will reappear over and over, with increasingly strange results.
You Guys Kill Me represents a step forward – partly, according to Elliott, because he got his hands on a state of the art sampler. The songs are better structured and the overall sound is less cosmic, for want of a better term. There’s also a huge variety of music, from the clattery junglist sound of No Dove, No Covenant, to the gentle see-sawing chords of That Would Be Exhibiting The Same Weak Traits, which starts like the kind of doom-laden organ track Ivor Cutler used to narrate over then gradually unfolds into a sharp rhythm-focused number.
The opener, A Galaxy Of Scars, with its initial cycling drone and stuttering beats which metamorphose into a string-led meditation in the middle section before tying the two elements together for the last couple of minutes is more complex and assured than most of the songs on Ghost. It also has one of the worst puns as a title… Other groan-inducers in the Third Eye Foundation back catalogue include There’s A Fight At The End of The Tunnel and I’ve Lost That Loving Feline.
There are disconcerting numbers – For All The Brothers And Sisters sounds like the result of giving everyone in Hell a kazoo, an effect intensified by the almost religious seriousness of its quiet ending. The outstanding track for me, however, is An Even Harder Shade of Dark with its deep and moody melodic lines and clips of ethereal voices you can’t quite catch interweaving with a complex background of snare drum licks and beats. The result is really chunky, multi-layered and entrancing.
2000’s Little Lost Soul, by comparison, seems much sweeter and in many ways less complex. There is less dissonance, less variety of sound, and more reliance on choral vocals – although you still can’t hear what they’re saying. Often described as more mellow, I’m afraid that for me that translates as increasingly dull. Only the clutch of bonus tracks, including a live remix of early single Semtex, and of An Even Harder Shade Of Dark, got my fingers tapping.