Friday, March 05, 2010

Eluvium, "Similes"

The vocals turn up about a minute into the gorgeous, shimmering intro of the first track, "Leaves Eclipse the Light" (an instantly recognizable Eluvium title if there ever was one). It's a bit jarring, because the song was humming along nicely up to that point. I could say the same about every other track on "Similes" that features Matthew Cooper's mumbled, deer-in-headlights singing -- in short, I find it hard to believe that any of these songs were conceived with any singing in mind. It's like these beautiful, anodyne atmospheric tracks were carefully assembled and slowly perfected, and the vocals were added only afterward.

Singing aside, "Similes" is unlike other Eluvium albums. The reliance on piano may stir up memories of "An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death", but there is nothing here that sounds epic and triumphant like the best parts of "Copia" or his earlier albums. "Similes" is different. It's a sad album. Maybe Cooper felt like the songs needed vocals in order to break the tension. It's a repetitive album, far more so than anything else he's done other than purely drone-y tracks like "Zerthis Was a Shivering Human Image". Maybe he felt like the album needed vocals to interrupt patterns that would otherwise be too monotonous.

On initial listens, I downgraded the album based on the principles I touched on here -- except in this case, the album that trumps "Similes" isn't new, it's a few years old. It's also not an enitre album, rather, it's "Blood Fountain", the final track on Horseback's "Impale Golden Horn", where vocals and delicate piano cut through the fog of what is otherwise an album of blistering noise and drone. On that one track, Horseback anticipated and possibly surpassed everything that Eluvium attempts on "Similes". But after repeated listenings, "Similes" really comes into its own. These aren't pop songs -- the piano melodies are still very much Eno as opposed to Burt Bacharach -- but they can't nonchalantly be tagged as "ambient" either, which wasn't the case with other Eluvium records. At the end of the day, you have to give Eluvium his due for crafting some of his most beautiful tracks ever. I can't imagine that the jaw-dropping 11-minute album closer "Cease to Know" would disappoint anyone who had anticipated "Similes" in the slightest.

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