Review Summary: An oddly disjointed collection of pretty chord changes without an identity to give it life.
Don’t call Similes
a regression; it’s anything but that. Matthew Cooper (the man behind the Eluvium curtain) has been cautiously dancing around pop music for years now. Similes
simply marks the first time he’s touched it. Purists can wipe that bead of sweat off their brow; Cooper does not allow the flirtation with pop to replace what we’ve come to know as Eluvium. The much-ballyhooed addition of percussion and vocals to Cooper’s previously appealing, stubbornly solo construction doesn’t replace his idiosyncratic unyielding warmth so much as it buttresses it, though Cooper doesn’t sound so sure about that. Rather, he sounds well aware that his voice will be the defining trait of Similes
for Eluvium fans, and this causes him to sound nervous, his voice wavering on each note as though he were the quiet kid interjecting in a heated classroom discussion. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the aesthetic of uncertainty, doubt, and fear gives Similes
- and Cooper- an endearing persona that begs to be explored more deeply when Cooper approaches the next record. As it stands, Similes
is a record that sounds deathly afraid of the risks it’s taking, torn between the warmth that Cooper adopted as his trademark on 2007’s Copia
and the more conventional direction he seems hesitant to take.
Of course, to the person who picks up Similes
to see what this Eluvium fuss is all about, the tense dialogue Similes
is in with Copia
won’t be as obvious as it would be to someone with an understanding of Eluvium’s background. What will
be evident is that Similes
is, while a pretty record, oddly disjointed, a collection of pretty chord changes without an identity to give it life. The soul of Cooper’s previous work came from an intrinsic confidence in the material, and because Similes
is as divided as it is between its ambition and its means, it lacks the confidence to push its prettiness beyond just being prettiness. This perceived mistrust of Similes
’ vision makes the songs suffer, and they often come across as ideas not given the proper time to grow and flourish. You can hear Cooper tinker with arena rock on “The Motion Makes Me Last” but suppress the grandeur that would give the song guts or simply stop the development of “Nightmare 5,” perhaps out fear it might be a bore. One of the greatest flaws of Similes
is that, until the fully realized and wonderfully indulgent “Cease to Know,” Eluvium relies too much on the vocal-heavy tracks to give the album “direction” when Eluvium’s previous material worked so beautifully when it stood perfectly still. This is what should have worried those who were concerned about the character of Eluvium’s sound when it was announced that vocals and drums would enter the mix: not that the sound would be all that different from what he’s delivered in the past, but that the album construction and the patience that allowed Cooper’s ideas to evolve into something greater than their parts would be sacrificed, leaving us with something wholly unremarkable, no matter how much we want it to be more.