Talk Amongst The Trees (Temporary Residence, 2005)
originally published at Dusted Magazine
Matthew Cooper's simple yet bottomless third album, Talk Amongst The Trees, gives life to a paradox only hinted at by the titles of venerated indie rock records: it is the sound of nothing turning itself inside out, the art of building nothing out of something. If minimalism consists mostly in making a mountain out of a molehill, this record takes up the altogether more challenging project of making a quiet, meticulous molehill from the mountain. The fact alone that Cooper successfully makes so much sound like so little is to be appreciated and admired, but it's that deep and mesmerizing little that makes the record actually beautiful.
As glib as it is to equate minimalism with effortlessness, Talk Amongst The Trees is the contrary of both. It's not minimal for the simple reason that its pieces are comprised of seemingly infinite layers of noise – guitars, feedback, backward guitars, probably some strings, maybe piano – and it's not effortless because those layers are so precisely reined in and so evenly applied. Never too evenly to make it boring, however; always just variegated enough to call attention to its intricacy. At nearly 11 minutes, opener "New Animals From The Air" never wears out its welcome, though its melody and rhythm (if you can even call them that) never change. Line after line of muted sound drifts in and out of phase; now there's a bassline, now the faintly plucked string note casts a perfect counterpoint to the drones underneath; now nothing meshes particularly well with anything else. The imperfections in the record's synthetic cacophony keep it unpredictable, if not exciting per se, but they also lend it a comforting humanity.
The combination of the elements is anything but fortuitous, though; while it's quite a stretch to identify any of Talk's eight tracks as a song, each has a distinct mood and at least a suggestion of melody. The 17-minute "Taken" is easily the record's most dynamic piece, a building progression of guitar notes that sound like chamber strings; the others may take five minutes for one note to move up a half-step, or not shift it at all. But even those are something more than just atmospheres: the dreamy, choral "We Say Goodbye To Ourselves" is inestimably soothing; "Calm of the Cast-Light Cloud" captures at once the din of a thousand rush hours and the serenity of a rising tide.
It almost goes without saying that words have no place in Talk; even the track titles seem unnecessary (although they bestow a certain affable melodrama on the music, just like the majority of instrumental Temporary Residence records). Unfortunately enough, the booklet offers several pages' worth of earthy and mostly lousy poetry ("Shirts of obfuscated fog and cloud, pink crab and kale/ The brownstone and check slums/ of Burnside seem vernal"), but even the lovely photographs and crisp layout that accompany it could have been spared. The artistry of the record itself, its audibly attentive craftsmanship, is quite enough. Forget sound collage: this is a sound tapestry, the colorful and somewhat monumental sum of countless sounds and textures woven together with gentle ingenuity.back