Working with a limited palette of guitars and piano, Eluvium dropped 'Lambent Material,' a masterpiece of aquatic drones and fractured neoclassical compositions, in 2002. He followed it a year later with a brief album of solo piano suites that turned everyone’s expectations upside-down. Not quite classical and certainly not ambient in the common sense, 'An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death' garnered the kind of jaw-dropping acclaim that typically overlooks like-minded minimalist artists. This was a breath of fresh air for Matthew Cooper, allowing him to dive deeper than ever before. Beneath the cold water glow, 'Talk Amongst the Trees' is a soundtrack for exploring the surface of your own ocean, slow-moving like the sand that runs through your fingers and incandescent like the most unique creatures of the sea.
Review by Rob Theakston
After taking a break and immersing himself in a 30-minute, one-take piano piece that resulted in 2004's An Accidental Memory in Case of Death, Matthew Cooper (aka Eluvium) returns to forms and ideas he started to flesh out with Lambent Material and brings them to a more fully realized state throughout Talk Amongst the Trees. The album is longer than Lambent and employs the same types of instrumentation, but takes it in a more focused and emotionally charged direction. It's experimental music in the vein of Eno, Kevin Shields and Max Richter to be sure -- but like these aforementioned composers, it's not the process or concept that is the main concern, but the effect the music has on Cooper, and in turn, on his audience. "New Animals From the Air," the album's ten-minute opener, picks up where "I Am So Much More Me" (Lambent Material's closing composition) left off; warm swirling guitar swells flying around slow and melodic passages that seem to creep from out of nowhere. This is where Cooper does almost instinctively what it takes others to master over the course of a few releases: his sense of timing. He knows when to start and let ideas fold around themselves, and most importantly knows when to let them fade away into the creative from which they came. "Area 41," although brief, provides a haunting interlude which would not feel out of place on the sublime Pop Ambient series that German label Kompakt issues annually; while "Everything to Come" and "Calm of the Cast-Light Cloud" are so warm and serene that even the hardest of chin-stroking post-rock fans would acknowledge their simplistic beauty. The 16-minute work out of "Taken" sounds eerily like Pachelbel's canon, which makes it all the more endearing and a natural climax setting up the somber finale "One." This is not just a release for post-rock, experimental, ambient or electronic fans. This is a release for everyone who simply likes honest, well-crafted music.
Talk Amongst the Trees
(Temporary Residence; 2005)
Combined Rating: 82%
With all the ink devoted to the arguable demise of neo-dance punk (well, maybe not ink; more like webspace), I’ve been a little upset that post-rock’s fade from memory never received similar hand-wringing. Journey through the distant past to the end of 2000: Kid A is the most intensely debated album in memory, and no one has any reservations of praising Agætis Byrjun, if only they could pronounce the title. Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Mogwai, and the Dirty Three have all put out exceptional long players, and the adjective “glacial” seems to crop up in every other review in print. At the time, I thought its future looked exciting, but now I realize it was merely the crest of a wave going back since at least 1990. Behind it came New York City, and everyone was so happy to hear words and four-four time again that no one ever bothered to give it a decent burial.
I would not consider Matthew Cooper to be a post-rock artist; or if he is, then only under the loosest, most expansive definition that umbrellas Rachel’s and Max Richter. Cooper works with its often abused though proud older cousin, ambient, under the moniker Eluvium. Like post-rock, ambient requires patience and time for the material to reveal its subtleties. There are also no big crescendos, nor any discernable rhythms, really. It’s shorn, in other words, of any drawing gimmick.
It sounds like a recipe for bullshit, and it very often is. Cooper deserves credit, then, for making music that not only works, but is so extraordinary. 2003’s An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death was universally hailed, an outstanding example of minimalism performed live with just a piano. Talk Amongst the Trees exudes with a newfound confidence, a record that retains a compositional minimalism even as it indulges the tonal density and complexity of his first work, Lambent Material .
“New Animals from the Air" appropriately swoops down from the air and announces the album’s intentions. Over ten minutes and a bosso chord progression (that bears a coincidental resemblance to Sigur Rós’ “Untitled 3”), Cooper displays an attention to the tonal detail lost on many of his peers. Backtracked guitars swell and recede while an alto loop oscillates in free rhythm. I’m reluctant to guess the exact instrumentation on this track, like most of the rest of the album; the upper register sounds vaguely like a backward mellotron, but it whirrs so delicately, consistently and sublimely that it could just as easily be a tuned air-conditioner. (That’s a compliment, by the way.) Cooper closes the album with “One,” which bears a similar motif, but sounds as if “New Animals" has been pulled inside out. It's a stunning way to bookend the record.
The brief “Area 41” is nice despite its humor, fueled by a surge of feedback that fades out as soon as you notice it. I imagine it’s Eluvium’s definition of fun: an ambient version of a rock band doing thirty second hardcore song. (The title, for those of you who don’t remember the X-Files, is a reference to Area 51, a square area of the southwestern United States that is operated by the government, and may or may not be the host of secret experiments with extraterrestrials. Sounds spooky and hokey all at once, and so does the song.) “Calm of the Cast-Light Cloud” tremolos into action immediately, treading water for the song’s first five minutes before a brief organ chord signals its end.
Then we have “Taken.” If I needed to be brief, I’d tell you it’s simply gorgeous. Thankfully, I don’t: Cooper ingeniously uses a simple circular guitar figure as a percussive base for his soundscapes. Strings and a wash of feedback give the song its emotional heft, recalling Kevin Shields’ best moments. He creates a labyrinthine pallet of sounds for the song’s first ten minutes before using slap-back echo on his guitar to build the intensity. It’s a pitch-perfect use of compositional minimalism; I could be very wrong about this, but it doesn’t sound like he adds any instruments aside from the three that begin the song. By its end, it sounds like there are twenty.
The album’s cover is representational of what I feel are ambient music’s best aspects. Dark figures stand in a mist, forcing us to look closer to ascertain what we see. One of the figures is looking up – in a mist? What can that person possibly see? It’s anyone’s guess; the sheer impenetrable density provides us our own Rosarch test. Of course, anyone can stand in a room, record two hours of feedback, and call it art (or Zero Tolerance for Silence). What sets Eluvium apart from the phonies is that his soundscapes are suggestive: the listener is nudged along to a conclusion, without forcing them to project their own feelings on someone’s solipsistic morass. Cooper invites us to engage in his work, and it’s this reason, perhaps more so than the mastery of his craft or his impeccable sense of beauty, that makes his records so good. Christopher Alexander
2 March 2005
Talk Amongst the Trees
[Temporary Residence; 2005]
Drone music directs a listener's attention to texture. Once you know you're getting long tones and gradual changes, you focus on the sort of details. The timbre is what provides the mood, and is what separates the Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid from the very, very awake sounds of Aube. The best stuff finds that crucial edge between "too pretty" and "too noisy" and rides it like a water-skier pushed along by the lip of the boat's wake.
Matthew Cooper's Eluvium project has on occasion found this edge. I'm thinking in particular of the 15-minute "Zerthis Was a Shivering Human Image"-- the closing track on his debut LP, Lambent Material-- which throbs with damaged energy even as a layer of drone buried deep in the center hints at a ultimate serenity. Perhaps thinking that he'd said his piece with the held tones, the next Eluvium album, An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death was a collection of short piano pieces. Heard by some as kin to the impressionistic minimalism of Harold Budd, An Accidental Memory strikes me as a riff on some of the dramatic cues from the soundtrack to On Golden Pond. Nice enough, I suppose, but insubstantial.
With Talk Amongst the Trees, Eluvium returns to drone with a renewed sense of purpose. While there's nothing here anywhere near the intensity of "Zerthis", the album provides enough tension and variety to keep things interesting. The exquisite 10-minute opener "New Animals from the Air"-- with its billowy mass of backward guitar seeded with overdriven guitar patterns-- is the sort of thick sonic blanket which Windy & Carl used to tuck us under. In a similar vein, "Calm of the Light Cloud" delivers on the promise of its title, filling available space with layers glowing harmonics. Throughout Talk Amongst the Trees, Cooper has it down when he aims for immersive warmth. Slightly darker tracks such as the quiet "Show Us Our Homes", which has two separate metallic seesaw patterns swaying lazily and falling out of sync, and "Everything to Come", with its anxious, distorted whine, retain a sense of relaxed contemplation.
As with Eluvium's debut, this album's peak comes on an extended centerpiece. This time the boost isn't provided by a threat of noise, but by a sense of cinematic grandeur. The 17-minute "Taken" is built from a series of strummed guitar chords that seem to be continually climbing upward on an Escher staircase. As it marches along "Taken" becomes almost heroic, even after you realize that it actually changes little with each passing minute. It's a big effect on an album consisting mostly of smaller, quieter ones. But still, it holds together. That prickliness that pushes my favorite drone tracks over the top is lacking, but it's clear that Cooper had other ideas that happened to turn out quite well.
- Mark Richardson, February 25, 2005