EYE, Second Sight: Into Beyond

Birthed in a not-at-all cosmic reality known as Columbus, Ohio, the four-piece space rock outfit EYE nonetheless execute their sound with classical majesty on their sophomore full-length, Second Sight. Their first outing, 2011’s Center of the Sun (discussed here and here), was gorgeous enough to get the attention of Kemado Records, who issued it on vinyl in 2012, and the still-quick follow-up comes preceded by a 7″ single (discussed here) and a live tape (review here). Clearly, EYE — who also self-recorded the new long-player — aren’t ones for sitting still, and that sense of movement extends to the music on Second Sight as well, beginning in the gong hits and synth waves that patiently establish the psychedelic course of 21-minute opener “Lost are the Years.” Here EYE begin to unfold not just the first side, but the LP as a whole, and though it’s only been about a year and a half since Center of the Sun was released, the sense is that something ancient has awakened. There is a near-immediate sense of texture to “Lost are the Years,” also the longest track on the 45-minute outing (bonus points), and that comes in large part from the wash of Moog and analog synth effects created by Adam Smith. Guitarist/vocalist Matt Auxier has no shortage of effects on his guitar either, and even drummer Brandon Smith gets in on the ambience with chimes, congas, the aforementioned gong and other percussion in addition to regular old rock drums, so while bassist Matt Bailey would seem to be the one charged with holding the five tracks of Second Sight together, actually it works out more that the four-piece never really lose control. As spaced-out as they go — and they go plenty spaced out — the record keeps a mood that’s calm-ing if not calm-ed, and when they want to, EYE drift with futuristic efficiency into atmospherics that even the first record only seemed to hint at, a song like “Wooden Nickels” retaining some human element through harmonized vocals from Auxier and both Smiths.

Vocals are never really the complete focal point (Amy Michelle Hoffman and Anthony Jacobs contribute as well), but they’re gorgeous anyway and make the band that much richer and more lush-sounding. It is nearly five minutes of build-up before they arrive over bass and acoustic guitar on “Lost are the Years,” signaling the start of the song’s peaceful second movement. Tension is minimal, melody is rampant, and EYE are immediately the masters of the universe they’re exploring. Auxier takes a bluesy, echoing solo over acoustic strum and Bailey‘s bassline, and Adam keeps the texture varied while Brandon seems to rest until about the seven-minute mark a fill leads to the next progression, a more upbeat, distorted and somewhat foreboding swirl. The vocals are deeper in the mix, part of that swirl, not above it, and the swaying riff that backs the subsequent guitar solo calls to mind some of Hypnos 69‘s more recent progressive triumphs. The course of “Lost are the Years” is winding as the third movement builds to a crashing finish and the acoustic strum of the second movement returns, backed by subtle percussion and bathed in mellotron sunshine. It is even more graceful in its Floydian sprawl than when it first appeared, and it shifts fluidly into more exploratory acoustic guitars, a thunder sample signaling the change impending before a full stop brings back the heavier swirl, all channels full and vibrant as they transition into a shuffle led by Brandon‘s drums and soon joined by Adam‘s keys, rising, cresting and receding. They’ve departed the back and forth of one part to another that they’d previously established in favor of an extended jam, the guitars, bass, drums and keys all serving to further the atmosphere, layers of lead and rhythm guitars coming forward for a King Crimson-style push after 16 minutes in even as Auxier is in mid-rip on another solo. A series of hits ensues and backed by a jazzy snare roll, the guitars lead down a psych rock rabbit hole, ending up in a winding line that brings a return of vocals and precedes the key-driven push into the final payoff. It would need to be sizable to answer for all the twists and turns of “Lost are the Years” so far, and it is, but not necessarily any more grandiose than is warranted. Guitar is still are the fore, trading off lead lines and heavy riffing, and they cap with a return to the hits that led the way into the last movement, ending a song that, if you try to consciously keep pace with each of its changes, you’re going to wind up exhausted in the best way possible.

So they’ve spent just about half of the album getting through the first track. This is a bold, daring move, and part of me imagines that Second Sight didn’t take shape as one long 45-minute piece is because EYE wanted to adhere to a vinyl structure. Still, given the grace with which they handle the complex directionality of that song’s build, I can’t imagine that single-song-album is far off — at very least, if they want to do it, they show here they’re capable of keeping it interesting. Second Sight‘s B-side follows another course, however, and taken as a whole it has no less effect on the outcome of the album overall. The already-noted harmonies of “Wooden Nickels” — also featured on the preceding 7″ — make it a high point along with the analog scratch and various synths, but it’s also moodier and somewhat wistful. “Cultrider,” which arrives subsequently and is substantial at 12 minutes long even with “Lost are the Years” to compare it to, is arguably the most straightforward rocker of the collection, and though it seems absurd to note it as such for what’s so obviously a two-sided album, the centerpiece of the tracklisting. Bailey‘s bassline plays a large role along with Brandon‘s drumming in setting up the initial jam, a bit of funk underlying the periodic swells of synth and guitar effects, percussion and samples behind giving a sense of an impending freakout. Auxier begins a long solo just before three and a half minutes in, and a subtle build is not so subtly launched, the linearity of “Cultrider” coming more into focus. The guitars join the bass and drums in the start-stop insistence, and Adam switches to an organ sound to accompany in classic heavy rock fashion. Just before the halfway mark, they stop dead and hit into proggy key noodling and drum tension, and then “Cultrider” finds its real push, vocals arriving for a verse after seven minutes with space rock brilliance, coated in echo and swirl, crashing a while later into a thicker riff that recalls some of the jazziness of “Lost are the Years” in its rhythm, but settles after a time into a cyclical groove that stomps the song to an end, a cymbal wash bleeding directly into the title-track, which is more or less a compilation of ambient mini-movements summarizing much of what Second Sight has offered to this point. A guitar line surfaces, synth backs, the thunder reappears — is that a plane landing? — and mellotron sweetness takes hold with avant tape noise that would seem to be a lead-in for closer “Waiting for the Tide.”

More straightforward than “Wooden Nickels” in terms of being less spaced-out, “Waiting for the Tide” reaffirms EYE‘s gorgeousness in vocal harmonies and efficiency in crafting an atmosphere. Acoustics, Moog, and the singing all work to establish a peaceful finale, Bailey‘s bass arriving later as a keyboard solo emerges and fades out, seemingly prematurely, back to the gong hits and blowing winds that started “Lost are the Years,” a bit of symmetry that would be superfluous if that kind of thing mattered by the time Second Sight was rounding out. With this album, EYE enter an elite echelon of space rock mastery that few American bands have ever claimed for their own. That sounds like hyperbole, but it’s true. Superbly British in their influence — you’ll note the mentions of and allusions to King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind — the foursome nonetheless retain and refine an identity that belongs solely to them, and what makes Second Sight even more effective is that it’s not the album I expected them to make after Center of the Sun. Sure, growth along a course of space rock was anticipated and it’s realized here, but it’s in the softer, gentler moments in “Wooden Nickels,” “Second Sight” and “Waiting for the Tide” that one can hear just how much the Ohio group have come into their own over just two years’ time, not to mention how those cuts balance against the more fervent stretches of “Lost are the Years” and “Cultrider.” It’s not that EYE are playing one side of their sound against another, though. Rather, what they’ve managed to do here is establish a progressive sensibility broad enough so that they can move from one end to the next, never quite letting go of consistency in the way that, say, loud/quiet tradeoffs generally might. Second Sight is executed with confidence and clarity and is above all an incredibly engaging listen. I’ll look forward to getting to know it better over the years to come.

EYE, Second Sight (2013)

EYE on Bandcamp

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3 Responses to “EYE, Second Sight: Into Beyond”

  1. Mike H says:

    Thanks for the tip on this one. I have missed the boat thus far. Listening to their Bandcamp page right now and thoroughly enjoying it. It appears it is only available as a download right now. Is that right? Do you know if there are there plans for a CD?

    It sounds amazing. Excellent production.

    I’m pretty sure if I had heard this before submitting my top 20 of 2013 list, this would be on it.

  2. Harvey Mee says:

    Agree with Mike H. This belonged in the top 20. Mindblowing. Thanks.

  3. asamford says:

    would have made my Top 20 as well!! really diggin’ this!

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