When I Live by the Garden and the Sea EP

(Temporary Residence; 2006)

By Christopher Alexander | 18 October 2007

I asked Matthew Cooper last year if he wrote his songs on the fly or if he labored over the perfect chord progressions that would become Eluvium records. It had a secret meaning: I was conducting the interview without any prepared questions, which is completely contrary to how I usually work (I'd also just interviewed Corin Tucker some five minutes beforehand, and I confess that I was more than a little starstruck and felt insecure about myself as a journalist and person). Our conversation that afternoon touched on the nature of the universe and celestial patterns, things that I not only would never think of to ask but to even discuss completely. It felt like the whole thing was going to collapse any second, but it was thrilling.

Which would be a fitting alegory, but the equation doesn't work out: Eluvium records are as meticulous and arranged as a Hitchcock movie. Listening to them, it's hard to see how it could be otherwise: beautiful, spare but filled with swells and colors, progressing surely along an arc. Like our conversation, though, they surprise me, and not by cheap tricks of shock and volume. "I Will Not Forget that I have Forgotten," the first song on the new EP When I Live by the Garden and the Sea, mostly relies on a single piano figure, a minor chord played slowly. When the chord suddenly changes, though, the reverberation is so profound -- the choice such a right one -- that it draws something from the listener that s/he wasn't prepared to give to the music, something that s/he ordinarily doesn't feel at all.

This is the Eluvium playbook. Cooper described Talk Amongst the Trees (2005) as a form of abduction in the sense of "total desertion from everything that we know." He meant the artificial boundaries separating us from the univers and each other. Your own opinions, reader, are as valid as any other; frankly, I'm too cynical to discuss spirituality and psychic energy without extreme skepticism. But his records are so stirring, so well-crafted and deft in their attention to space and patience, that the listening experience accomplishes that desertion. Whether you begin contemplating the heavens, realizing you haven't talked to your family in years and that you may miss them, or that life is beautiful, or just that this record is beautiful, is all beside the point. Cooper's music is strong enough that it guides you. It's intelligent and articulate, but unlike many in the ambient/post-rock world, it's never dry and academic. All are welcome.

When I Live by the Garden and the Sea is a consolidation of Cooper's strengths, a reprise of his previous records and stages to this point. While "I Will Not Forget that I have Forgotten" is second only to "Taken" as the most gorgeous thing he's commited to tape, the EP suffers a bit from being a self-conscious restatement of his first three albums -- its worst offense is that it's merely not as strong as Trees and Accidental Memory in the Case of Death (2003). The record meditates on the final stages of mortality ("As I Drift Off"), and unsurprisingly is being billed as a farewell to all that, as Cooper embarks on "a new phase" with a new record in store for next year. It was a great run, if true. While guitar-based independent music seems ever pinned to the vicissitudes of the internet, Eluvium has quietly produced one of the best catalogues of the past few years.