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Martin Eden - Dedicate Function

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Artist: Martin Eden

Album: Dedicate Function

Label: Lefse

Review date: Nov. 8, 2012

Eluvium’s ambient landscapes have always shimmered from one horizon to another, their gorgeous, shifting textures of piano, synthesizer, treated guitar and other unclassifiable sounds seeming to exist outside time and space. Tracks like “Zerthis Was a Shivering Human Image” (from 2003’s Lambent Material) had a beginning and an end, but no sense of progress between these poles. Cooper’s compositions floated, hovered, flickered and decayed, but they did not stride purposefully into the next moment. Even his last, vocal-tethered album, Similes, diffused song structure into limpid pools. “How does the motion make me last?” he asked on that album, contrasting the eternality of the spirit with the ceaseless business of the physical body. But his songs, however beautiful, were more about stillness than motion, more about transcending the cadences of heartbeat and breath than harnessing them. Martin Eden, Cooper’s new solo enterprise, sets evanescent atmospheres into motion, adding a locomotive beat to what has been, in Eluvium, a timeless stasis.

Martin Eden takes its name from a Jack London novel, not one of the action-packed canine tales (White Fang, Call of the Wild) but rather a story about a struggling writer who tries and fails to transcend his working class origins. It’s a story that resonates with creative types, since it pits ability against class expectations, raw self-expressiveness against the fluency that comes with education. I’m not sure what it has to do with Matthew Cooper’s latest project, except that Dedicate Function has a muscularity that is mostly missing from ethereal Eluvium.

The album’s centerpiece is the long, cerebral “Verions,” a piece founded on the interaction between relentless machine beats and woozy blasts of synthesizer. The synthesizer blares like fog horns, its notes distended and irregularly shaped. Meanwhile the beat -- not hard enough to compel movement, just insistent enough to demonstrate purpose -- moves forward. The piece crescendos midway through, the synth notes approaching the clarity of brass, the beat slipping sideways in a sandpapery friction. It’s as if the two elements have switched sides, the dream eloquence of keyboards turning bright and concrete, the marching rhythm shadowed and subsumed. If you think of the rhythm as body, the melody as spirit, you hear them shift interchangeably, one into the other, and you begin to wonder if that sort of dichotomy makes any sense at all.

Cooper dabbled uncharacteristically with vocals on his last album, but here puts them mostly aside again. There’s a spoken word sample at the beginning of “etc. etc.” (“Just a moment….just a moment…are you quite sure?”), bits of altered, hardly-human singing haunting the edges of “hum.” Yet, for the most part, sounds on Dedicate Function do not resemble music made by ordinary people. Sonic textures are weightless, soft-contoured, flaring suddenly, then dropping back to a minimum. They have no breath behind them, no fingerprints on them, no sign of human manufacture, and yet, taken as a whole, these sounds say something moving and beautiful about consciousness and the conjunction of the mind and body.

Near the end, “return life” includes hints of bird song and ocean waves in its shimmering textures, and the beat begins to sound like a heart. There’s a whiff of church organ in the keyboard drones, a sense of blossoming spiritual awareness. The motion ticks on underneath, relentless as birthdays, unyielding as the way that fall follows summer follows spring follows winter and so on. But nonetheless, there’s resolution, there’s beauty, there’s something transcending time even as it continues on implacably. It’s as if Martin Eden’s gorgeous, purposeful march has all been leading exactly here.

By Jennifer Kelly

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