Eluvium: Nightmare Ending
It would be easy to imagine other ambient composers feeling a bit like pretenders to the throne after listening to Matthew Cooper's latest Eluvium collection. The man has an uncanny ability to create melodically rich compositions that make the efforts of others seem amateurish by comparison. In fact, so strong is Cooper's material that it commands the listener's attention even when presented in its starkest form, as happens in the case of Nightmare Ending's piano pieces.
As a project, Eluvium has existed for a decade and witnessed various permutations during that time. On 2010's Similes, Eluvium appeared in the form of vocal-heavy ambient-pop, but past efforts have also seen Cooper exploring vaporous soundscaping (2005's Talk Amongst The Trees) and neo-classical chamber music (2007's Copia). The genesis of Nightmare Ending actually began years before Similes as Cooper originally intended it to be the follow-up to Copia. But, for reasons best described as idiosyncratic, Cooper decided against releasing the material he'd created and instead shifted his attention to Similes. The Nightmare Ending material wouldn't, however, be denied, and so Cooper resurrected the project with renewed vigour, eventually amassing eighty-four minutes of music that would require two CDs to accommodate it.
The ethereal opener, “Don't Get Any Closer,” captures some of what makes Eluvium music so compelling, beginning with the sparse piano chords that Cooper drapes across the lilting backdrop to stirring and stately effect. The key moment, however, arises halfway through when an elegiac organ melody surfaces to maximize the music's emotional impact. It's at such moments that one imagines Cooper's artistic brethren shaking their heads in admiration and wonder. The instrumental resources deployed—electronics, guitar strums, and keyboards—are actually rather modest, but what he does with them is marvelous.
The strings-drenched meditation “Warm” harkens back to Eluvium's foggier side, while “Unknown Variation” flirts with ambient-psychedelia in wrapping burnished horns within a heavy blanket of static and rumble. “Rain Gently” adopts a more epic feel in subtly bringing its guitar haze to a controlled climax before reverting to serenade form for the dénouement. It's the melody-based pieces that make the strongest impression, however. The wistful piano settings “Caroling,” “Entendre,” and “Impromptu (For The Procession)” are elevated by gorgeous melodic progressions that are simple yet emotionally potent. And though “Covered in Writing” is covered, albeit in a swirl of haze, its density can't conceal the poignant melody softly intoning at the center.A couple of guests do appear (Mark T. Smith of Explosions In The Sky on “Envenom Mettle,” while presumably it's Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan and not Cooper contributing the soft voiceover to the tender lullaby “Happiness”), but make no mistake: Nightmare Ending is very much Cooper's show. It might, in fact, be the ideal starting point for anyone coming to Eluvium for the first time. It references a number of the styles Cooper has explored in the past, and, though it is an instrumental work, its material is totally accessible; that it is so without any compromise to the quality or integrity of the music is a testament to Cooper's gifts as a composer.