Lambent Material

(Temporary Residence; 2003)

By Scott Reid | 27 September 2003

Eluvium's Lambent Material is probably the best ambient album I've heard in the past few years, but upon first listen it might seem painfully destitute. Like most ambient music you're likely to hear, it's repetitive, subtle and is able to be as passive as the listener's interest. If you're going into this expecting melodies or diverse, complicated arrangements, there's a damn good chance you'll be disappointed.

The album's first two tracks are arguably its best, as "Unfinished" and "Under the Water it Glowed" slowly project their mesmerizing, repetitive rhythms into, depending on how involved you get, either plaintive background noise or devastating layers of resplendently juxtaposed sounds. It's tempting to want to just describe the simple noises occurring rather than try to describe the mood set, but the latter is still somewhat subjective, no matter how forceful of a single aura the song's timbre can create for you. All the same, "There Wasn't Anything" builds a distinctively somber feel through its sparse production, using the album's lone vocal sample ("six people died in that crash") to solidify the mood it is attempting to get across. Its understated piano line echoes alone until radiant foghorn like accompaniment lulls the song to its end, leading into the album's centerpiece, "Zerthis Was a Shivering Human Image." The pastoral quality of the album's first three tracks works well to calm the listener before the jarring outer cast of "Zerthis" is able to swarm around and enthrall you for its entire fifteen and a half minutes.

The underlying movement of "Zerthis" isn't so much different from anything that comes before it, save the layers of static that surround it like bees surrounding a hive, a cerebral noise that brings the recurring sample to life and suffocates it. Throughout the track, the encased melody rises and falls sporadically, attempting to break free, eventually strangled lifeless by the deafening wall of sound that stubbornly keeps it from escaping and evolving. In the end, after the long intense feelings of anxiety and tension subside, the static takes over and fades itself out, offering several moments of silence before the album's last track, "I Am So Much More Me That You Are Perfectly You," is able to offer a requiem for the album's body--a quiet post-traumatic lullaby that is much lighter in mood than any other track on Lambent Material. In a clever move, waves of subtle noise (sounding more like a cars driving by in the rain than "Zerthis'" massive wall of static) continue to breathe underneath the track, rising and falling against the song's melody until finally it remains alone, requiring the utmost of attention to dissect its final moments from sounds originating outside your own room's window.

Lambent Material is able to work so well because of the simplicity of the arrangements and the strength of the moods created. Within each song, Eluvium (aka Matthew Cooper) uses the repetitive drones to manipulate subtle shifts in intensity, allowing the music to completely overtake the listeners with even the most minimal level of active participation.