For as long as I can remember, I’ve always heard people banging on about Max Cooper. If you are in electronic music circles his name will come up. And regularly. The first time I experienced his music was his 2014 EP ‘Tileyard Improvisations’ with vocalist Kathrin DeBoer and trumpeter Quentin Collins. It was an eerily jazzy EP. Max Cooper delivered some wonderfully glitchy soundscapes but didn’t really get a chance to shine; his job was to keep the music progressing so that deBoer’s could perform vocal calisthenics and Collins’ could play those delightfully elegant phrases. Since then, I’ve kept an eye – and ear – out for Cooper’s work. I’ve always been entertained by his releases, but they haven’t always moved me as ‘Tileyard Improvisations’ did. That is, until now, with the release of ‘Unspoken Words’.
The album is Max Cooper’s fifth full-length release and right off the bat you know this is going to be something special. The title track kicks things off on a muted, and tempered, note. Huge drones brush past us from the speakers. It is reminiscent of Vangelis’ more thoughtful work. If ‘Unspoken Words’ is about a place without boundaries or edges, then ‘Inanimate To Animate’ and ‘A Model of Reality’ are about structure and parameters. Sharp beats, repeated phrases and glitchy motifs pepper these songs. Only Kotomi’s ethereal vocals give a link to what has come before. As ‘A Model Of Reality’ comes to a close you get the impression that something is building and getting ready to be released.
‘Symphony In Acid’ starts to hint at this. It’s harder hitting than the previous six songs, but still have reflective elements to it. ‘Exotic Contents’ and ‘Broken Machines Broken Dreams’ really ramp things up. Bass wobbles, skittering beats and searing synths make these the most abrasive tracks on the album so far. Given this extra layer of abrasion, and EDM vibes, these songs don’t feel out of place at all – instead, they feel like the peak of the album.
If we thought the last three songs were what Cooper was hinting at, it all becomes clear on ‘Solace in Structure.’ Throughout this sounds like the frantic end to a scrolling platform computer game that might, or might not, feature a red plumber with a moustache. Everything is right up there I the red. The beats, basslines, and tension. It feels imperative that you make it to the end of the song. Something bad might happen if you don’t make it to the end of the song. Once you do reach its conclusion we are greeted with ‘Small Window On The Cosmos’. As the title suggests, this is the polar opposite to ‘Solace In Structure’. Everything moves slowly. There are no beats, or real basslines. Just drone, upon drone, layered on each other, like the cosmos above us. It truly is wonderful and one of the standout moments on the album.
‘Stream Of Thought’ closes the album on a meditative note. Musically it doesn’t do a great deal. Much like ‘Small Window On The Cosmos,’ just a series of elegant drones playing off, and around, each other. It creates a gloriously elongated single drone that take you out of your humdrum and, momentarily, allows you to drift off to somewhere else for a bit. As the final notes fade out it feels like the album has gone full circle as that is how ‘Unspoken Words’ started. It truly is an evocative piece of music that is the ideal end to this captivating album.
What Cooper has achieved on ‘Unspoken Words’ is to deliver a collection of songs that take us on a journey. One that start off all dreamlike, steadily gets harder, and more frenetic, before trailing off back into the dreaming. Its remarkable how, almost effortlessly, Cooper achieves this. Repeated listens are a must as you can see where he drops these hints of what’s to come. This is everything, and more, that we have come to expect from Max Cooper and justifies why his name is constantly being mentioned.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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