Eluvium False Readings On

[Temporary Residence Ltd; 2016]

Styles: holy ambient, ocean debris
Others: Explosions in the Sky, Yo La Tengo

Presence requires absence. On False Readings On, the newest from Eluvium, it is often only after a sound exits that we notice what it left behind. At the end of the album’s closer, “Posturing Through Metaphysical Collapse,” a lingering string sound throws the dense fuzz that came before into stark relief. This is what “eluvium” means: debris from the disintegration of rock, the remnants made possible by a loss of something whole.

Since 2003, Eluvium, the project of Portland artist Matthew Cooper, has been crafting warm, expansive ambient tracks. On False Readings On, Cooper builds up his typically slow-going, sustained textures, using modular synthesis to fit sweeping strings inside of sighs and then sighs inside of whispers, melting grit, voice, reed, and hum down to puddles before parsing them out again.

As Andy Beta writes, Cooper’s palette of sounds “isn’t too different from that of his 21st-century ambient and modern-classical peers.” We can hear echoes of a range of references: the creaky piano from Gonzalez’s Solo Piano, the poignant decay of William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops. Going back even further, remnants of electronic composers of the 20th century resound, like the cosmic simplicity of Laurie Spiegel’s The Expanding Universe or Éliane Radigue’s oscillating choir of spirits on L’Île Re-Sonante.

They’re all here, their traces audible, but it’s not pastiche, collage, or parody — it just sounds like Eluvium.

In his exploration of texture, Cooper pairs epic eagerness with a calming state of reverie. All of Eluvium’s albums are moving, but False Readings On takes a particularly reverent turn; using operatic/choral samples and church-like cadences, he achieves a grandiosity on par with a Renaissance mass. And yet, he also incorporates the intricate meticulousness of a serial classical composer at mid-century. Expansiveness meets containment two minutes into “Beyond the Moon for Someone in Reverse,” when a synthesized, angelic choir floating up above is posed against the angular, peculiar moves of a pitch down in the trembling foundation, worlds away.

Adorno felt the best music would be reduced to nothing if any one of its elements were altered. At times, the more sweeping stretches of False Readings On can feel nauseating, abundantly present, their inner life too churning. But maybe the best passages on the album — those that surprise, that shimmer — would be meaningless if the maudlin moments were missing; excess itself becomes tucked into the album’s balance. If sometimes the grandeur threatens to overwhelm, the album’s subtle gradations just as often leave me struggling to explain why exactly they make me shiver, pause, cry, or, at their most elusive, disappear.

Most Read