Review Summary: The piano, the drone, and the distortion.
Perfection is overrated. So thought Matthew Cooper, who began work on Nightmare Ending
as a response to his pretty-pretty 2007 success story, Copia
. He realised the twinkling piano and soft, smooth drones were, in their own way, a kind of restraint, as he felt confined to only creating music deemed perfect in a beautiful kind of way. Such perfection does tend to get a little dull at times, though this does no discredit to Copia
, which rose to the top of the overburdened, “perfect” pile through its deceptive charm and imagination. Nevertheless, Cooper seemed a little bored by it himself. Nightmare Ending
was always supposed to be the antithesis to this and, as Copia
was the dreamworld, it would retread the same steps -the same styles- in a more sinister light. Beautiful but flawed, and better for it: Nightmare Ending
is like returning to Narnia only to find ***’s got real in your absence.
As a result of this, we see the return of familiar elements and formats as the album dodges nimbly between drones and piano. Solo piano pieces are again used as a form of palette cleanser, and it’s with these we see the most immediate difference. They’re surprisingly nondescript for Eluvium: following simple, repetitive progressions in a manner very much in keeping with themselves. Far from attention grabbing pieces, they’re brief gasps of air as the album rises above the weight of itself only to dive back in soon after. The exception in this regard, “Impomptu (For The Procession),” is not too dissimilar, but its sad yet captivating air works more as a set up than anything. Eluvium is quick to sink the mood afterwards.
Cooper’s ambient pieces are -as would be expected from the title alone- a mercilessly twisted take on his previous style. As if to make a point, he’ll often set off a smooth, clear drone only to steadily warp it beyond recognition. He’s very happy to create something beautiful and consciously corrupt it, and it’s this idea which permeates Nightmare Ending
from beginning to end. When he isn’t warping something, he’ll play a drone off against distorted noise or randomised fluctuations in texture. In the case of “Covered in Writing,” he allows the imperfections to rise until they completely engulf the initially sweet and isolated piano.
Of course this is Eluvium, so he’s far from going overboard with this. Nightmare Ending
is still incredibly accessible and quick to the point. If it were any different it would hardly be an Eluvium release at all: we’re still in Narnia, just a different version of it. In fact, this continued presence of the beauty he tried so hard to escape from does the album credit, since the image of the perfect Narnia is always kept fresh. In its own way Nightmare Ending
still maintains the uplifting Eluvium air carried by Cooper into all his works. Here, however, it’s made more interesting by constant fracturing, distortion and disintegration.
You’d have thought he’d have learned by now, but Cooper’s use of vocals in the finale does mark an odd, awkward moment. By luck of the draw the vocalist shares distracting characteristics with Monty Python’s Eric Idle (read: he can’t really sing), and even when sung in a whisper it doesn’t fit with the tracks calm and clear tone. The track itself also seems out of place in the album: with too much sweetness thrown into the mix and repetitions overstaying their welcome somewhat. Presumably it was meant as a comedown, but it betrays Nightmare Ending
’s darker sensibilities by returning to a style better suited to Copia
Despite this, Nightmare Ending
is a resounding success for Eluvium. This little fling with imperfection was the edge needed to complete and mature a style once threatening to fall flat, and hopefully it opens up the possibility for similar works in the future. It seems unlikely -given Eluvium’s penchant for jumping between styles on impulse- we will see a direct return to Nightmare Ending
, so for now it should be treated as a precious glimpse into the more refined side of an already well established artist. Just no more vocals please, Matt - Narnia shows itself best instrumentally.