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Review: Eluvium, 'False Readings On'

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Eluvium, <em>False Readings On</em>.
/ Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist
Eluvium, False Readings On.

Few artists have had as fecund a post-millennium stretch as Portland, Ore., musician Matthew Cooper. He released nine Eluvium albums in 11 years, with each successive release performing the neat trick of sounding both more expansive and more distilled than the one before it. It was a remarkable run, capped by two mammoth 7xLP box sets, Life Through Bombardment -- so thorough a retrospective of his work up to that point that it might have provided the bookends for the Eluvium project. Consider that after 2013's Nightmare Ending (not counting two limited art-edition projects), nearly three years went by with no new Eluvium music. Instead, Cooper focused on Inventions, his shape-shifting post-rock project with Explosions In The Sky's Mark T. Smith.

False Readings On is a welcome return for Eluvium, sliding seamlessly alongside his previous work so that the intervening gap is hardly noticeable. As opener "Strangeworks" rises to life, in four minutes Cooper moves from somber church-organ tones and gleaming piano melody to a trilling operatic voice, evoking a bodily sensation of soaring through the air with just a handful of elements.

Cooper's sound palette isn't too different from that of his 21st-century ambient and modern-classical peers: e-bowed guitars that suggest ocean swells 10 miles away from shore, My Bloody Valentine-style washes of white noise, contemplative piano chords, disembodied choirs that suggest the heavens above. But while other artists might specialize in only some of these elements, Cooper's craftsmanship becomes evident when he fits them all together.

At his finest, he suggests that noise and beauty are interdependent. "Regenerative Being" has a gorgeous piano line, stirring strings and a powerful operatic voice echoing in the distance, and then it all slides down into a high-pitched flutter not unlike dolphin song; "Washer Logistics" submerges everything in a jacuzzi of white noise. It all sets the stage for one of Eluvium's finest moments to date, the 17-minute epic "Posturing Through Metaphysical Collapse." Moving at a speed glacial enough to barely register at first, the contemplative tones and celestial voices accrue mass and speed ever so carefully. Next thing you know, they're transformed into deafening jet-engine roars, a glorious noise that feels visceral and cleansing at once.

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Andy Beta