After the intimate piano recital of 2004’s An Accidental Memory in Case of Death, Portland, Oregon’s Matthew Cooper returns to more familiar ground with the massive camouflaged guitars of Talk Amongst the Trees, his third release as emerging ambient wunderkind Eluvium. Cooper is more a traditional composer than a digital sound sculptor, most of his compositions working within a strict, minimal harmonic structure that produces an air of careful studio orchestration rather than the jagged improvisations of many comparable laptop programmers.
Like so many ambient artists before him, much of Cooper’s material harkens directly back to Robert Fripp and Brian Eno’s more melodic seventies work: a warm, hovering cloud of noise that seems to avoid traditional song structure but never slides into absolute dissonance. The album’s centerpiece “Taken” is one small riff looped for seventeen minutes, wherein eight bars of plaintive guitar strumming rises into a sustained drone endlessly reflecting off of itself to obscure the arrangements beneath.
Nowhere does Talk Amongst the Trees veer into particularly experimental or confrontational territory, and it will most likely sound familiar to those with more than a passing interest in atmospheric electronics. Yet, far from the sterile background purrs that comprise much of the ambient genre, Cooper’s insistent devotion to repetition builds into surprisingly emotional plateaus, each shifting quietly over time.
Cooper manages to change tone between tracks without spontaneous feedback or atonal sequences to shake the sound from its unflinching foundations. The textural variations of “Calm of the Cast-Light Cloud” closely resemble more fragile sides of recent work by Christian Fennesz, and the brief interlude “Area 41” may very well be a heavily altered passage for solo bagpipe. Some casual listeners will find little in the way of concrete hooks to take from this album, but to those seeking successful exercises in electronic restraint, Eluvium is among the very best.