Audio-visual artist Max Cooper has released an incredible array of albums over the past decade, featuring indelible singles, creative remixes and striking videos, many of which have appeared on ACL‘s year-end lists. Never content with fixed forms, Cooper transforms his compositions into multi-media concerts, to the delight of attendees, many of whom will finally be able to see a show this year. Yet for all his accolades, Cooper has never produced an album like Unspoken Words: a smooth set from beginning to end, so well-integrated that it flows as a single work, and steals the spotlight back from the award-winning videos. Ironically, this is Cooper’s first set released concurrently with commissioned videos for all 13 tracks, available on Blu-Ray for those who purchase the CD edition.
Even without the liner notes, one senses a harmony of mind within these tracks; and so it is a joy to discover that this is the intention of the composer. The album is conceived as a “unifying space” in which the discordant fragments of the mind might become one. Expanding from such a peace, the newly centered person might seek to connect with others and lead them to a similar healing grace.
The title track creates a blissful ambient space, like a pleasantly warm, newly carpeted room. “Inanimate to Animate” adds lyric-free vocals, an invitation from a trusted friend. The album seems to be saying, take off your shoes; rest in this safe space. The tone ~ although not the timbre ~ is reminiscent of the early Buddha Bar compilations that highlighted awareness, inner peace and outer empathy. “A Model of Reality” continues the bloom, awash in stereo percussion, stuttered voice and a sense that disparate elements are beginning to coalesce.
At this point, one might be forgiven for thinking that this is an ambient album; but ambience is only one of Cooper’s tools. As the album progresses, the artist delves into drone (“Ascent”) and begins to pump up the beats, which one might interpret as the dance of life or the emergence of involvement as the listener begins to turn outside the self to engage with the outer world. The electronic pulses of “Spectrum” prompt visions of an international dance floor: no enemies, no enmities. As the music grows tougher and the drums begin to wander from their moorings, one begins to think, I can handle this complexity, for I am no longer of a dual mind.
“Exotic Contents” is the polar opposite of the title track, paired with a restless video in search of consonance. “Broken Machines Broken Dreams” exposes our reliance on technology for spiritual sustenance, and the disappointment it brings. “Solace in Structure” is pure architecture, bordering on IDM, each beam flying in space like racing thoughts, the rapid pace of society laid bare. But in its closing frames, the music descends like a soft parachute, leading back to serenity. Until now, we’ve accepted the increasing tempo of life, the unending news cycle, the rush to achievement, while growing sterile in spirit. Cooper’s holistic album sings of a better path. (Richard Allen)