May 31, 2003

Eluvium "Lambent Material"

I always laugh when I watch psychics who talk about past lives on television. Everyone who comes on and says that they are afraid of water are almost always told that their fear of water stems from the fact that they died on the Titanic! Personally, I find it odd that you never hear psychics saying that their previous incarnation was anything less than luxurious, or that they were a refugee who died as a boat person coming to the United States.

I don't know if Eluvium's sole mastermind Matthew Cooper's previous incarnation died at sea, was a washcloth, or was a sea anemone, but he's surely made a record that is quite aquatic in nature and is quite tranquil to boot. Though the only thing on Eluvium's debut album, Lambent Material that suggests a water theme is the song title "Under the Water It Glowed", it takes about thirty seconds of listening to "The Unfinished" to submerge into a watery world. Cold layers of sonic noise slowly yet strongly crash against each other, and like a child's toy sinking to the bottom of the bathtub, the music takes you to the bottom but it doesn't force you there. Piano and keyboard based music, spiced with a dash of clarinet, is the basic sound found on Lambent Material--and that's all Cooper really needs to make a beautiful record.

The song that is most striking is the epic "Zerthis Was A Shivering Human Image," and if any song really makes this record sound like the sea, it's this one.The basic rhythm pattern is exactly the same as a foghorn, but it also has a very loud, grand, troublesome distortion to it as well. The music floods, screams, bleeds, wails, crashes, and slowly it falls apart, the melody sinking into the nether regions of sound, and I swear it sounds exactly what I would imagine an ocean liner would sound like if it were sinking. As bits and pieces fall off of the basic melody-listen carefully, they do indeed sound like they're falling off--they go from sounding right there in the mix, and fade out while the melody stays on, creating a crashing affect, and if you picture it, it's a mighty disturbing yet utterly amazing sight to behold. (I took the liberty of watching parts of Titanic on mute while this song played, and it fit the soundtrack perfectly.) The song fades out after about fourteen minutes (it seems much, much longer than that), untill all that is left of the grand, majestic melody is a haunting, fading line of static that sounds not unlike a telegraph signal, and is picked up by the solemn, funereal piano passage, "I Am So Much More Me That You Are Perfectly You." This little fade-out fade-in effect is indeed quite haunting.

Lambent Material is an excellent debut, and Cooper should be commended for not going overboard with ideas. It's easy to get washed away in this particular genre, but Cooper wisely understands that ambient music can often sound longer than its actual running time--something that even the godfather of Ambient, Brian Eno, never really understood. (I've been fighting the urge to say he should have called this Music for Seaports, by the way.) In keeping the album brief, the listener doesn't drown in ambient noise. Besides, you'll be left wanting to hear more--and if you don't, I suggest that you go back and get your feet wet.

--Joseph Kyle

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