The rise of predominantly instrumental music during the new millennium was a pleasant but unexpected change. Wordless music, which often entails seven-plus minute songs with much musical repetition, droning and rapid changes in dynamics, isn’t exactly easy listening material. However, there is something very visceral and emotionally compelling about this music that makes it appealing to large audiences: its lack of lyrics allows listeners to build their own narrative to the sounds, rather than have a story imposed on them, and the music’s guitars and keyboards often elicit universal reactions of melancholic nostalgia.
Mathew Cooper’s alias, Eluvium, creates music that is generally sunnier than, and has lacked the percussive instrumentation that categorizes, some of the other bands on his label (like Mono and Explosions in the Sky). His piano-based instrumentation has perfectly captured the wistfulness of an era, having an almost mystical power to conjure flashes of images from one’s past like a home video reel.
Eluvium’s newest album, “Similes,” riskily treads new grounds, adding percussion and vocals to his usually spacey and fluid sound. On opener “Leaves Eclipse the Light,” though, the vocals fit so naturally that it makes one wonder why this album hasn’t been made years ago, as Cooper’s quiet baritone brings a sense of grim seriousness to a song with a cheerful, galloping percussion and eddying keys. The pieces all come together in beautiful unison with the percussion, creating enough levity to balance the echoing hums of keyboards, resembling something like a gradual lapse into sleep on a horse carriage—which metaphorically speaks to higher levels.
After the ominous minor keys abruptly close out the opening track, the meditative “The Motion Makes Me Last” continues the trance-like state of the album, as Cooper’s hushed vocals ethereally sing, “I’m a vessel between two places I’ve never been,” while gentle piano keys flow like ocean waves within the song. The decision to name the album “Similes” seems fitting; the many textures of the album, like the heel clicking percussion of “Weird Creatures” or the foghorn howls of feedback on the epic “Cease to Know” blur the lines between a simple sound and an abstract idea, constructing meaning within each minute detail.
Many of the songs remain wordless, like the menacing “Nightmare 5,” and free flowing, although they are all meticulously constructed. The only potential flaw of this album is its lack of cohesion from song to song, although this may have been done strategically to coalesce a series of movements into a beautiful whole: a collection of emotions and ideas perfectly articulated through precise sounds.
Kevin Stevens can be reached at email@example.com.