“I enjoyed doing the soundtrack so much more than I was enjoying what I was working on,” he tells me while driving through Arizona. “Everything had been coming to me a little too easily — and I realized that I wasn’t pushing myself in any way. I decided to try another angle.” Cooper scrapped what he had done and started anew, yielding to a persistent desire to capture the sounds within him. “I just had words swirling around in my head.”
It’s no small feat working words into ambient music. Where Barwick’s voice soars and multiplies, free of the trappings of meaning or misunderstanding, Cooper’s task was to introduce narrative where there was barely acknowledgment of time. Not to mention that he hadn’t sung since he was in a band as a teenager, 15 years ago. “It was a tough balance to maintain,” he confirms, “but my biggest consideration was just being honest, even if the subject matter seemed pretty abstract. If you are going to sing, you have to make sure it’s you singing.”
As such — and as is the case with Barwick — Cooper’s newest output feels closest to Cooper himself, even as he makes himself most present as just another sonic stripe. His voice sneaks around the corners of “Weird Creatures” as glimmering keys shine off the song’s high ceilings. “The Motion Makes Me Last” pairs a deep, woody piano with a strident sheet of digital debris (as Gastr del Sol used to do so well), then runs it through a melancholy Factory Records filter. Cooper’s place in the mix is like the thinker’s within a thought, essential but not in charge of its journey. Or, as he chants it, “I’m a vessel between two places I’ve never been.”
As “ambient” music goes, the songs that make up Similes are surprisingly inviting — maybe even accessible, for the patient among us. The glowing, loping “Making Up Minds” could as easily tickle persnickety fans of Jan Jelinek or Ekkehard Ehlers as it could convert a Coldplay fan. And his recent interest in “more sets of hands” has found Eluvium upgrade from a lonely solo act on stage to a trio with heaps of keyboards, laptops, guitars, and voices — the sound is fuller, bolder, and more vast, but it’s never sounded more like Cooper. Now he just needs to learn how to share.
“I’m not really the best leader in the world,” he laughs. “There’s a part of me that’s a real control freak, so that sort of thing has been relatively impossible for me. At the same time, it’s been very liberating having other people bring something to it. Part of me wants to look into that sense of adventure and not be in total control.”
JULIANNA BARWICK + ELUVIUM | Great Scott, 1222 Comm Ave, Allston | May 20 @ 9 pm | $12 | 617.566.9014 or greatscottboston.com