Eluvium is Matthew Cooper, he hails from the Pacific Northwest (Portland, to be precise), and he is here to save ambient music from the graduate students and New Age hippies. 2002’s Lambent Material established him as an artist to watch in the somewhat cloistered field, while 2003’s An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death took off in a new direction, being composed entirely of solo piano suites. Talk Amongst the Tress is a return to the more strictly ambient, with nary a literal touchstone to be found.
Talk Amongst the Trees is almost frightening in its musical inspecificity. Allow me to explain: the most jarring facet of the album comes from the fact that the tones and chords sounds as if they originated in analog instruments at some point—maybe piano notes or guitar chords—but they have been so thoroughly transformed as to be rendered totally alien. The same note played on different instruments is, tonally, identical: if you break down three C’s plucked on a guitar, hit on a piano and blown through a trumpet, the tone of all three notes should be essentially identical. Eluvium plays with this fact by breaking down the characteristic variations between different instruments until everything becomes irrecoverably fuzzy. The soft-focus creates a world where music is transmitted in its purest form, shorn of any kinship with the analog instruments which have traditionally produced it. What we have here is merely an assembly of sound whose origin seems to be wholly not of this earth.
Not having anywhere near the depth of vocabulary to discuss the music on a visceral level, I am left to contemplate whether or not the result is pleasing. The answer is a qualified yes. I say “qualified” simply because I am left with the uncomfortable notion that something this seemingly simple has to contain hidden and unheralded depths. “Calm of the Cast-Light Cloud” appears to consist of only one chord, enlarged to enormous dimensions and engulfed in a mass of atmospheric obfuscation. Many of the tracks appear on first listen to be similarly listless, but actually contain slight variations which only become apparent after a few minutes.
The album begins with “New Animals From the Air”, a pleasing attempt at conjuring the ineffably pleasant sensations of early, half-remembered childhood memories. It almost sounds as if a backwards plucked guitar can be heard carrying through the haze and fog, but only almost. “Show Us Our Homes” is something slightly more sinister, with a general air of contemplative menace, like the ringing of a massive bell or a deep sitar note stretched and attenuated to the point of dissipation.
“Everything to Come” carries the dense associations of a summer carnival, with bright high notes juxtaposed against deep complementary chord changes. “Taken” is the only track on the album to feature recognizable instrumentation: a strumming electric guitar carries the song until disappearing in an onslaught of hazy chords some sixteen minutes later. “One” brings the album to a finish in much the same way it began, as an unfocused and immense wall of sound emerging from the corridors of memory.
Eluvium is a unique artist, and Talk Amongst the Trees is a unique achievement in a difficult genre. It would be easy—inevitable—to make the comparison to obvious progenitors like Brian Eno and Aphex Twin, but Eluvium owes as much in execution to spacey fellows like Kevin Shields and Four Tet, people who take recognizable objects and turn them upside down. Whether or not this is the album for you depends on whether or not you have any affection for the genre. If you entertain any affection at all for the airy, numinous realms of abstract sound, this might just be your new favorite record.