By entitling this collection of pieces for piano solo Piano works, Matthew Cooper seems to be pointing out that this latest release from Eluvium should be seen as more than just ambient pop mood music. Rather, it is a collection of serious compositions.
The distinction, for the most part, works. Cooper’s first piano-centric record, An accidental memory in the event of death (2004), was more sparse and more aligned with the minimalist philosophy of shaping silence and space. Here, Cooper fills the space with melodies. Or An accidental memory might be guilty of the common criticism of ambient minimalism, that it’s underdeveloped or that it builds up pretty melodies that don’t necessarily go anywhere, the 13 tracks on Piano works are more developed and progress through identifiable changes to satisfactory conclusions.
The opening of the album “Récital” evokes, like many pieces here, memories of childhood with its static fluidity. There’s a sense of suppressed energy here, held back lest it burst out and venture beyond control, much like the nervous energy of the young prodigy on the piano bench. Likewise, “Quiet Children” resonates with a mixture of nostalgic melancholy; these are brilliant chords reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi’s 1950s recordings. “Underwater Dream” sends the listener back to the looping, slowly evolving patterns of Eluvium’s best-known work.
In all, Piano works is a moving collection that presents Eluvium in its most accessible form. Or An accidental memory could be called a late night chill drive, Piano works might better be labeled as dinner music. This term, in many circles, could be read as an insult, essentially labeling the work as “average”, but that ignores the reality of how a significant number of its listeners consume music. This is a collection of piano pieces composed for the direct or indirect pleasure of the listener; it rewards thoughtful listening while welcoming its use as ambiance. Enjoying this disc while sipping wine and chatting over a meal is a perfectly reasonable demonstration of its functionality.
There’s something to be said, too, for embracing the “middlebrow.” One of the unexpected results of the information revolution is that everything has become intermediate. There is no longer that privileged pocket of consciousness once occupied by the suburban hipster of the late 20th century. Where the demonstrated appreciation of Philip Glass, Meredith Monk, Ken Nordine, or some similar center-left artist once identified an individual’s taste as refined beyond the plebeian mass, today’s mass communication network makes everything immediately accessible. We no longer need curiosity and taste; rather, opposable thumbs will do.
Piano works is Eluvium’s most immediately accessible record to date, an inviting and thoughtful collection of compositions that meets its listeners where they are while being able to take them to unexpected mental places and moods.