Talk Amongst The Trees
already loved Talk Amongst The Trees before the snowstorm, but that day was what cemented Matthew Cooper’s newest album as a truly indelible experience, something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
My twin brother, his girlfriend, and I all drove back to my hometown that Saturday for the birthday of my stepfather. It was a grey and rainy day early on, but by the time we left for home four hours later it was a blizzard. Total whiteout conditions as I was sitting in the back of the car, headphones on, listening to “New Animals From The Air” open Talk Amongst The Trees. It was dangerous, yes, but it was also truly beautiful: I couldn’t see the horizon, just this mass of slowly moving whiteness outside our vehicle, the occasional stark tree branch breaking into our visual field. It looked a little, actually, like the cover of this album.
And although the rest of the record is nearly as great, it was those ten minutes that I sat there, looking at windswept nothing as “New Animals From The Air” played, that stick with me. I could feel a lump in my throat, could feel my heart breaking just a little at the glory and the deep sense of rightness I felt in that marriage of visual and audible. Something in the sound of that track makes me feel lifted up and safe and warm and happy and at home.
The chemist and perfume writer Luca Turin once said “One of the properties of loveliness is that it disarms all attempts to be serious, and turns all critical machinery into a pile of whirring junk,” and that’s the problem I face now. “New Animals From The Air” is nearly impossible to describe as something purely sonic, as anything other than a heart-rending sound, a hovering mass of tones and form and space, subsuming all individual qualities, all separate instruments, into its luminous mass. Cooper’s first album as Eluvium was called Lambent Material, but the descriptor is now more apt than ever. Sure, individual sources can be identified, a little guitar feedback here, maybe a violin there, keyboards, whatever, but it hardly makes a difference. Cooper has created something several orders of magnitude greater than the sum of its parts, and everything is whirring junk in comparison.
One of the complaints you could level at Eluvium for a track like the sixteen-minute “Taken,” nearly as good as the album opener, is that the same brief (string? guitar?) sound is repeated for nearly its entire length; but if you did, I’d want you to back it up. If it’s so easy, if “Taken” doesn’t require much work or art to make, then why don’t you do it? Why don’t you make a sound for sixteen minutes that is as transcendent, as soothing, as majestic, as deeply, essentially satisfying, as “Taken”? Anyone can make a few drones or some loops and string them together, but I have yet to find many albums of similar material as affecting and courageous and meditatively powerful as Talk Amongst The Trees. Eno’s Music For Airports is similar in how it makes me feel, but the two records don’t sound anything alike, and all the albums I’ve heard that sound like this one don’t make me feel the same way. It’s easy to make sound, but it’s not easy to make sound as beautiful as the Zen My Bloody Valentine of “Calm Of The Cast-Light Cloud” or the gentle call of “Everything To Come” or even “One,” which ends the album sounding like “New Animals From The Air” saying goodbye.
But it’s the two longest tracks that are indisputably the center and heart of Talk Amongst The Trees. Everyone I’ve played bits of this album for has heard small parts of both “New Animals From The Air” and “Taken,” and the reaction always seems to be the same: “It’s beautiful, but I have no idea how I would describe it.” So the way I describe it comes back to that snowstorm that reminds me of the cover of Talk Amongst The Trees. There are no trees in the cover painting by Quint Buchholz, just some people and a few fence posts stranded in grey mist. The figure closest to us is looking up, and whenever I’m listening to this record, I think about what he might be looking at.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM'S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: MAY 2 - MAY 8, 2005