(Whirring Marvels in) Consensus Reality is one of the year’s most anticipated releases. The album is also the longest anticipated, as the tracks have been appearing two by two, like the animals on Noah’s Ark, since last November. The final track will appear on release day. This is an extraordinarily confident way to promote a release, but Eluvium (Matthew Robert Cooper) knows the worth of what he has. Hobbled by an arm injury and isolated by COVID, the artist sought the aid of algorithms and remote recording to complete this ambitious set. Touted as “the first Eluvium album featuring a full live orchestra,” Consensus Reality sounds significantly different from the rest of the artist’s catalog, but it’s a great foray into a different field. Eluvium is joined not only by the Budapest Scoring Orchestra, but by members of Golden Retriever and the American Contemporary Music Ensemble, virtually guaranteeing success.
The album begins with a host of ticking and chiming clocks, a reminder of time distortion during the pandemic. The strings arrive in soothing manner, as if to advise patience; orchestral chimes join the clock chimes as one last hour tolls. This brief overture leads to “Swift Automatons,” whose striking video is streaming below. The subject is the exponential acceleration of technology and its effect on the human consciousness. Infinite Vibes’ rapidly-changing images personify this effect, while the orchestra keeps things grounded. The birds relate back to the (cuckoo) clock and imply the desire to soar; when they morph into airplanes, and then space shuttles, the visuals are lovely while the message is stark: something has been lost. The return to the egg is symbolic, and not restricted to birds. Later Eluvium will return to this thread with “Clockwork Fables,” a sedate piano piece that counteracts the rapidity of change.
“Scatterbrains” addresses another accelerated phenomenon: the inability to pay attention, due to the paralysis of media overload. The track places slow, deliberate notes over swift, choral loops, asking the listener to make a decision as to which to follow. For a track titled “Scatterbrains,” it’s remarkably focused; Eluvium writes that the song is also inspired by a shelter of trees he visits with his dog. In this scenario, his thoughts are “scattered to the wind,” leaving a profound peace. The feeling of forces competing for attention decorates the entire album, landing time and again on higher thoughts, and in tracks such as “Phantasia Telephonics,” larger chords. When one is overcome by information, sometimes it’s better to clear the mind.
The album seems to reset with “The Violet Light,” inviting poetry to the fore: an old form whose power is too often forgotten. The same holds true for “Void Manifest,” in which a soloist leads to choir, recalling ancient wisdom and deeper truth. There is nothing inherently good or evil about technology or modernization; it’s all what we make of it. By allowing machines to help, but not to take over, Eluvium establishes a new consensus reality. “Endless Flower”s percussion symbolizes triumph; for once, in the face of all that ails us, it’s nice to have a happy ending. (Richard Allen)