erasing clouds

3 Music Reviews

by dave heaton

Eluvium, An Accidental Memory in Case of Death (Temporary Residence)

Last year Eluvium, aka Matthew Cooper, released his debut album Lambent Material, and it was an earth-stopping, transcendent, ambient soundscape driven by guitars and keyboards. Its sounds stuck with me long after the first listen, and it's an album I still hold dear. Now he's followed it up with An Accidental Memory in Case of Death...and it's time to throw away all expectations. Here Eluvium is a single piano, nothing more. The waves of sound have been replaced by a lone, crystal-clear instrument, yet what he does with that instrument is magnificent. The pieces on An Accidental Memory (6 pieces plus a brief introductory evocation of one of them) are all methodically played works of repeating and entwining melodies. This is more like timeless classical piano music, far off from the atmospheric overdose of the debut, yet the albums have more in common than you might expect, from Cooper's superlative ear for melody to the way the music resonates within you in all sorts of deeply emotional ways. From the surrealist cover paintings to the liner notes' Douglas Coupland quotation about trying to understand the pictures in your head, An Accidental Memory... is obsessed with the internal world, and the music somehow reflects that as well. It's like we're hearing one person express his inner dialogues and moods through playing an instrument, and then what he plays rolls through each of us in unique and memorable ways.

Francis Albert Machine, I Love You and I Don't Want You to Die (Chocolate Hearts)

The first US release of music by multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter Francis Albert Machine is a collection of singles and rarities recorded between 1999 and 2004...but I'd be lying if I said I could tell from listening to it that it wasn't planned as an album. It has the continuity and listenability of an album, rare for a collection of 26 songs recorded over 5 years. Maybe it's the homemade quality of the recording that holds the songs together, but it's mostly how good they are and how much they represent one musician's particular vision. I Love You... songs are first and foremost stripped-down and emotional; these are solitary pop songs with gorgeous melodies and a sublime directness. He sings about love and life and loneliness with a gentle straightforwardness that bores right into you. But the more you listen the more you get a taste for his weird streak, if you didn't already catch wind of it from song titles like "No Good Charming a Broken Snake". From time to time he'll pull you in with heart-baring sentiment, and then you'll realize he's singing about being a vampire or a robot. That doesn't dilute the emotional force of these songs, nothing could. It just means there's an extra level of mystery about it that makes the album all the more compelling.

Li'l Cap'n Travis, ...In All Their Splendor (Glurp)

...In All Their Splendor, the new album from Texans Li'l Cap'n Travis opens with Christian Braafladt, one of the group's four singers, wondering why even paradise can be lonely ("oh great another beautiful sunset," he wryly sings), to guitars that are equally steeped in Hawaiian sunsets and old Country & Western 45s. That line between basking in the sun and hammering out the country rock blues to a handful of drunkards in an old roadhouse is at the heart of ...In All Their Splendor. They evoke the rock and country pasts of their hometown of Austin, while making you imagine that they spend their nights on the beach dreaming and getting hammered. There's a dose of Crazy Horse in their sound as well, that tendency to zone out with an electric guitar and get you thinking about oceans and deserts. A certain amount of sun-fried melancholy (brighter and less fatalistic than the rain-soaked variation) haunts the album, along with a only occasionally tapped-into sense for the joys of turning the volume up to 11 and rocking the sadness away. Mostly the 15 tracks here feel both like crying into your beer and California dreaming. By the album's end they've gone through heartbreak, yearning, and rock n' roll barnstorming, and have turned their attention to tripping off into the stars, beautifully.

Issue 23, May 2004

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