Even if no other ambient album this year will surpass Mountains’ stunning Centralia, Portland-based ambient recording artist Matthew Cooper’s latest deserves consideration alongside it. With Nightmare Ending, Cooper, who goes by the moniker Eluvium, has bounced back after 2010’s Similes, the disappointing follow up to 2007’s excellent Copia. Nightmare Ending, like Cooper’s best work, combines orchestral shoegaze with ambient piano-led tracks to create a shimmering, worthwhile listen from front to back.
For an artist who has stuck resolutely to a particular sound and genre, Matthew Cooper’s work as Eluvium shows a commendably broad range. Within the triangulation points of ambient warmth, steady drone, and pointillist, emotive piano playing Cooper has touched on everything from Fennesz-style fuzz to sci-fi tinged string arrangements to even, on 2010’s fine Similes, a little bit of singing. It’s a credit to Cooper’s gifts as a performer, arranger, and composer that his reluctance to repeat himself feels unmistakably like a restless, creative intelligence rather than any sort of lack of focus.
An ambient composer with an indie perspective, Matthew Cooper has been recording under the moniker Eluvium since his 2003 debut, Lambent Material. With seventh album Nightmare Ending, Cooper drifts into his tenth year with the project in grand style, presenting a double album and arguably his finest moment. Always meticulous and insular, Eluvium's tuneful drones have often garnered comparisons to Brian Eno's ambient work, and piano-centered compositions like the stoic "Caroling" and ominously atmospheric "Sleeper" certainly back up the reference point.
Ambient music has plenty of stargazers, but not many stars. There are so many people working in subtly different but broadly similar styles, and so much of their music is less keen to develop the individual persona than to dissolve it in a universalist hum. One exception is Matthew Cooper, who has spent the past decade becoming a touchstone for contemporary indie ambient music.
Review Summary: Matthew Cooper the man, finally meeting Eluvium the artist.When Nightmare Ending really hit me, I was driving down the freeway on a warm day with the windows rolled down. Strange, really, as connecting with ambient music has always been easiest in seclusion and isolation; introverted scenarios for introverted music. Yet Eluvium’s seventh album bucks such an idea, and with it, its very own beginnings.
Readers of a certain age may remember the furore created by the news: Dylan has gone electric! Bob Dylan’s (in)famous transition to playing guitars you have to plug in during his 1965 tour might not seem that seismic after all these years, but at the time, amidst cries of ‘Judas!’ and ‘traitor!’ from the bearded faithful, the effect was... electric. It was the same way in 2010 when Matthew Cooper - he who essentially is Eluvium - released Similes: the outrage and indignation were palpable.
Even scarier than the nightmare is waking from it. You snap out of whatever horror you’ve cooked for yourself, look at the clock, and try to remember how to read numbers. The room feels like it’s in another country. You get up and check: the planet’s not shaking. No one is chasing you. No one ….