National Eye – The Farthest Shore

January 01, 1970

(Park the Van)


At certain moments and in just the right light, Philadelphia’s National
Eye hinted at something transcendent with their first two releases, but left listeners
nearly as frustrated as they were sometimes blown away. But while their latest,
The Farthest Shore, still doesn’t quite
make that memorable grade, the band has certainly closed the gap. That’s a bit
surprising in itself given the record’s fitful history: Originally conceived as
a musical movie about a young man on a quest to find someone he inadvertently
turned invisible, the songs were written to mirror the adventures that follow
(“featuring a type of animation that hasn’t been invented yet,” reads the
one-sheet). When it became clear the visual element wasn’t going to happen, the
12 songs recorded – which were never intended as a concept record, per se — were
released and left to stand on their own. (Note that this is a digital-only release
and not available on CD or vinyl.)


And that they do, sometimes quite spectacularly, as the band
creates an accommodatingly spacey aesthetic that seamlessly envelops loping
orchestrated pop (“Slow Boat to Trinidad,” which echoes Donavon’s “Atlantis”), strings-and-guitars
twang (the Neil Young-like “Installed in the Dark”), Granddaddy-esque psychotropic
excursions (“The Effortless Plane”), and even lounge-y jazz rock burnished with
odd-but-not-overbearing synth noise (“Through Fields of Fixed Stars”).


Despite eschewing simple hooks and easy-bake verse-verse-chorus
recipes, National Eye’s inclinations veer pop-ward as often as they do toward the
adventurous — if there’s an Achilles heel it’s that those opposable ideas still
make a song or two sound unsure which direction its headed in, and you wonder what
might happen if they toned down one element in favor of the other and, say,
made a more obvious pop record. Penultimate track “Pure Film,” with its pulsing
rhythms and slo-burn build to crescendo, hints that they’d probably be quite
good at one.


Still, with a narrative bent that, even in the most
straight-forward song, includes the line “I think I’m gonna cut off my ear/I’ve
been thinking that for several years,” maybe it’s best National Eye stick to its
own formula, especially since the dividends are growing. In the end, the original
songs-to-a-film conceit seems to have helped focus the band toward a sound more
their own after their first two full-lengths — while full of promise —
suggested a band still at battle with several stylistic version of itself. They
may yet attain greatness, too, because The
Farthest Shore
doesn’t seem that far away.


 “Slow Boat to Trinidad,” “Pure Film” JOHN SCHACHT




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