ELUVIUM – Similes (2010)

Matthew Cooper (the sole member of Eluvium) sings on Similes. He sings on it a lot. This is a big deal. His previous albums, be they simple piano themes (An Accidental Memory In Case of Death), or warm guitar loops and resonant synths (Talk Amongst The Trees), had little use for voice, aside from a few samples (Tom Hanks from The Burbs at the beginning of As I Drift Off). But given that Cooper’s last album, 2007’s Copia, was a huge expansion of his sound from Brian Eno to something more approaching the gentle neo-classical of Jóhann Jóhannsson, the addition of vocals on Similes makes sense. And of course, the vocals here are anything but traditional; they’re softly-uttered and murky, buried deep within the mix, and more often than not, they function more as textures than as vessels for lyrics. Which, for an Eluvium album, is how it should be. Good. Now that that’s taken care of, on to the album itself.

Similes has the distinct quality of feeling as though it’s coming to us from a faraway celestial land. You don’t so much listen to the album as you feel it fall atop you from the sky, almost like a gift. Bending Dreams feels like the aural aftermath to a massive cloudburst, and In Culmination sounds like lost drops of rain scattering down a windowpane. You’re probably thinking, “I get it – he’s using similes to describe the songs because that’s the name of the album.” But you’re wrong. Similes (as a device) compare two unlike things, explicitly. And I’m not being hyperbolic in my descriptions (trust me, I’d be the first to admit if I was). Now then, almost every Eluvium album always has had one song that arches past the rest in terms of its scope and breadth of the albums’ other songs (i.e., Zerthis Was a Shivering Human Image,Taken and Indoor Swimming At The Space Station), and Similes is no different. That song here is entitled Cease To Know, and it’s the last song of the album. It begins with an open and gently pulsing ambient backdrop. Cooper’s vocals come, and they float around beneath everything. Then slowly, a swooping wave of sound emerges and it gradually begins to falter and break up until there is (quite literally) nothing left but its fragments, which fade like ashes, into total nothingness. Sound evocative? Well, that’s because it is.

It seems like Matthew Cooper is only getting better as a composer the farther he pushes Eluvium from its origins and into its natural musical boundaries. His early work was very reminiscent of much of Brian Eno’s ambient output (think Ambient 4: On Land), but his later work has a feel to it all its own. It’s peaceful without being soporific. It’s powerful without bombast. And it’s moving, without any pathos or tear-jerking melodies. Such a thing is rare in ambient music. And though I certainly enjoyed The Seven Fields of Aphelion’s debut, I would recommend Similes over it, easily.

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