The last time Matt Elliott released something under his Third Eye Foundation moniker it was 2001. Since then he’d abandoned both the name and the sound—a terror-filled brand of electronica—opting to do a more guitar/vocal-oriented style of music under his given name.
I was a big fan of the Third Eye Foundation, not so much of Matt Elliott. So it’s great news that he’s resurrected his old identity for a new album, The Dark, released back in November. I wish I hadn’t slept on picking this up—The Dark belongs in my upper echelon of albums released this year. It’s also in the upper tier of Third Eye Foundation albums overall. The aptly named album is a forty-minute nightmare of orchestral drum-n-bass.
According to the track list, The Dark contains five songs. You wouldn’t know it from listening, however. The transitions from one track to the next are nearly invisible, especially between “Anhedonia” and “Standard Deviation,” the opening pair of ten-plus-minute tracks. Together they form a slowly evolving, unrelenting envelope of sound as Elliott adds on and peels back various layers. “Anhedonia” starts quietly—a delicately plucked piano is joined by samples that sound like moaning ghosts, propelled by a stuttering echo of a beat. The atmosphere of the song is heavy and mournful; it puts you in a mental funk before you know it. By the time it’s melted into the second track, Elliott has dragged you down to his lair. More and more instruments pile on—somber horns and strings—drenched in a cavernous echo that starts to overwhelm with its cacophony.
For a record that is rarely without beats, The Dark somehow manages to keep heavy on the atmosphere. It’s everything that swirls around Elliott’s programming that makes the album so gripping. The dense morass of chants and samples and strings can feel directionless at time—that is, as a listener you feel lost inside the record. There is no song structure to guide you out, and rarely even a breakdown to let you catch your breath. In some ways it resembles the massive improvisational jams of Amon Düül II, only less rocking and way more dangerous.
Only at the album's midpoint, "Pareidolia," does Elliott let on there really is a structure to his horror show. The track begins with a breakdown, finally relenting after the first twenty minutes, though it doesn't last. Elliott switches up the pitch of the track midway through, increasing the speed and bringing everything to a frenetic climax before again easing the listener back down with "Closure," the most melodic of the bunch, though no less menacing. Though it's not the final track on the album, "Closure" feels like the true endpoint of the record (the last track, "If You Treat Us Like Terrorists We Will Act Like Terrorists," is the shortest of the bunch, and also the only track to feel clearly separated from the rest). Its melody is never swallowed by the dense array of sounds clutching at it; like any good horror story, there is a survivor amongst the wreckage.
- The Third Eye Foundation: Pareidolia