Similes (Temporary Residence, 02.2010)
For: Aarktica, Red House Painters, Yume Bitsu
Byline: Honest, sad music by one of the driving forces in the ambient music. This time with 100 % more vocals.
Matthew Cooper has largely mastered wordless music. After releasing what is considered one of the most influential ambient-drone albums of all time, 2005's Talk Amongst The Trees, which is ranked up there with Basinski's Disintegration Loops and Eno's Music For Airports, 2010's Similes strikes off in a bold new direction with the inclusion of not only vocals, but lyrics, real song lyrics. Cooper walks a tightrope between two musical chasms that seem irrevocably divided. Come on too strong with pop-sensibilities, verse-chorus arrangements, etc... and you are in danger of alienating the crowd that show up for swirling drones of otherworldly guitar-delay effects and ethereal, oscillating sound-clouds. Tip the scales closer to the ambience and the inclusion of Cooper's voice and lyrics have a merely ephemeral effect, simply becoming another instrument in a sea of effects. This is the part of the review where I say, Cooper somehow transcends both genres and creates something wholly new...Am I getting too obvious? Well, in your face! That's totally not what I was about to say. Out of the eight tracks, six have vocals. What do these tracks sound like? Well, imagine the pastoral warmness of Talk Amongst the Trees with Cooper's low, timbre heavy voice, which sounds like Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart's at his most non-threatening, bending the gorgeous synth washes and underwater guitar drones to match his vocal melodies. Gorgeous stuff. Not rewriting the rules, but providing an even-handed overture to both camps. A bridge between two disparate genres.
After 2006's overreaching piano driven Copia, Similes is a welcome return to form. delayed guitar drones create a percussion-like effect in their repetition. Something akin to the more serene, gurgling compositions of Ducktales or Ruby Suns. Guitars swan dive and swoon on the album closer "Cease to Know". Quite simply, even with the inclusion of lyrics, this is Cooper at his top form musically. Some of the most gorgeous moments, however, come come from Cooper's lyrics. Eluvium writes cryptic odes to the wavering line between conscious act of creation and subconscious, dreamlike imagery. If I could nail down a conceptual or thematic thrust of the album, I would point to the act of creation, both conscious and unconscious. This wandering theme leads to some gorgeous lines. Peep below.
Staring at the sky while you are blurring out the lights/if the colors and the shapes were clearly more defined/thinking of a concept seems like getting off the course/writing to myself and later questioning the source.
I was talking to a friend recently about this album. He wondered if kids would think this album is cool, it isn't chillwave, it isn't any "wave" for that matter. If anything it heavily reminiscent of the 90's slow/sadcore movement, which is pretty much anathema in todays musical landscape. Everyone is afraid of writing sad songs these days, resulting from the inevitable back-lash of an adolescent migration away from the dreaded "emo" tag of the early 00's. But I hope that this honest melancholy makes a resurgence, because I will not sit through another 10 years of this pseudo-mystical, positivism being peddled to us.