A lot of artists would start an album with the strongest track and leave everything that comes afterwards to try to live up to the set expectations like afterthoughts on tape, even more so would leave the best for last and keep building up to it. Plenty of artists could be found guilty of releasing double disc albums that include barely enough decent material to make up on semi-decent album, with examples abound in the last couple of years. Albums that appear after a long break, or a relatively long one depending on how prolific the band or artist is, would usually face an even tougher challenge to get through to their audiences than their previous albums. Mathew Robert Cooper‘s Nightmare Ending, his first is three years under the Eluvium moniker, fits none of these descriptions.
Nightmare Ending arrives on the heels of what was probably Cooper’s most controversial album among his fans, Similes. An album that suffered from a lot of criticism for a lot of wrong reasons, mainly of “Eluvium’s sold out, man, he’s got vocals and percussion now!” kind. What most people failed to see was that Similes, while arguably not as strong as Copia or Talk Amongst the Trees, an album that saw Cooper’s growth and his willingness to push his music further, an album that saw him avoid slouching in a formula or forever lying in a comfort zone and in Nightmare Ending this definitely shows.
It starts off with one of his best ever songs, the three piano chord slow burner that is “Don’t Get Any Closer” and builds on that and keeps getting stronger with plenty of songs that could rival it in quality. The double disc format isn’t wasted on 80 minutes of the same thing over and over again or is it a filler extravaganza; it’s a thoroughly thought out amalgam of drone, piano vignettes, ambient soundscapes and near industrial harshness at points. “Unknown Variations”, “Rain Gently” and “Covered in Writing” are different takes on the approach found on some Eluvium classics a la “Zerthis was a Shivering Human Image” and “New Animals From the Air”, filled with processed field recordings and found sounds, layers of looping drones and reversed samples, reverb laden soundscapes and an ability that very few other artists in the same field have, that of making them extremely memorable without needing the inclusion of hooks or melodies.
Fans of his piano pieces will find an early favourite in “Caroling” which is sure to achieve the same stature of “Radio Ballet” (that is if it hasn’t already), the Satie-esque “Impromptu (For the Procession)” acts as a perfect segue and a memorable one in its own right and “Entendre” recalls some of Debussy‘s finest works. The most sonically surprising track on the album would undoubtedly be second disc opener “Evenom Mettle”, which is by far the most cathartic song I have personally heard from Cooper, the filtered heavy percussion, the relentless waves of noise clashing against the more beautiful higher pitched layers and the way it transitions half way through to guide the listener through the remainder of the album are all key in making this by far the most interesting track on show here.
Transitioning and track order are really what make this album work, because – at least in my humble opinion – a collection of amazing songs scattered meaninglessly throughout just doesn’t work or in the best case scenario would make an album of singles rather that people shuffle through rather than a coherent, memorable work of art. The way that the album keeps moving, changing colours, moods and sounds but always sounding like part of one entity is what makes this album worth coming back to over and over and embracing it throughout its entire length. It never feels like a burden sticking around with it for an hour and twenty minutes, it is a pleasure make its acquaintance every single time and a reason for sadness every time you wave goodbye (kind of ironic given that the final track’s name is “Happiness”).
I am listening to this for what I assume is nigh on my thirtieth time, and with this final paragraph the final song plays along, and this rush of almost equal happiness and sadness is as fresh and as powerful as it was listening to it for the first time. If I hadn’t made it clear so far, this is Mathew Cooper’s crowning achievement; this is beyond sublime and cliched as it may sound, it’s one nightmare you’d never want to end. (Mohammed Ashraf)