Electronic producers abide by a fairly simple guiding principle wherein, if one chooses to take on a different stylistic approach, all that producer needs is a proper new pseudonym. The most recent example of such nimble transformation is Dan Snaith, who temporarily took on a role as dance purveyor with his debut album as Daphni, Jiaolong. However, Snaith is hardly the first to make the attempt. Matthew Dear has shuffled his share of alter egos, namely Jabberjaw, False and Audion. And likely no single artist has concocted as many other names for himself as Richard D. James, whose primary gig as Aphex Twin has also given way to acid freakouts with AFX, techno as Polygon Window and chiptune as Power Pill.
Portland’s Matthew Cooper has spent nearly a decade crafting achingly gorgeous minimal ambient pieces as Eluvium, though even a Zen master such as himself has the urge to indulge in music with a more palpable pulse from time to time. Thus, Martin Eden was born. Dedicate Function, Cooper’s first album with the Eden name attached, is not necessarily an explicit foray into dance music. It has beats, certainly, and when held against Eluvium, it feels almost maximalist at times. But it’s more complex, more nuanced than that. It’s at once more muscular and human than Eluvium, pulsing and pumping through veins and capillaries. But there’s a more explicitly mechanistic side of it as well. It’s not explicitly club music, but its throbs and loops command with a hypnotic urgency.
It essentially goes without saying that Dedicate Function is absolutely gorgeous. It’s uniformly gorgeous in fact, though it’s not at all uniform. As a more or less full-time ambient artist, Cooper puts much of his focus here on ambience, though this isn’t specifically an ambient album. It’s a little complicated. Two-minute opener “Vlad,” for instance, tugs between aching chamber ambient and fluttering synth gargles, never quite touching down to land, though not quite soaring either. It’s on “Short Cut” where the real soul of the record comes to flourish. Where weightless compositions once roamed, a stunning wash of synths is given the gift of reverb-heavy beats, the density and elegance of which finds a sweet spot somewhere between early M83 and ambient Aphex Twin. “Verions” takes that even further, stretching out its low-key synthesizer wobbles and allows all the more space in between the beats and the melody. But things switch up again in “Etc., Etc.,” which begins with a voice intoning, “Just a moment… just a moment,” only to usher in a strangely disintegrating avalanche of ambience, the likes of which most closely resemble the decaying beauty of Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath 1972.
Dedicate Function isn’t an Eluvium album, by any stretch of the imagination, though aesthetically it’s not a complete 180-degree turn from Matthew Cooper’s exercises in patient ambience. This music is a bit more electric, a bit more alive, but still steeped in haunted beauty. As a move toward reinvention, it’s certainly an intriguing one, but more importantly, as a window into Cooper’s creative well, it reveals that the inspiration runs even deeper than his primary project may have let on.
Stream: Martin Eden – “Verions”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.