|Album Review: Max Cooper – Human|
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We sort most of the music that touches us deeply into emotional categories. Different music suits different moments. We have breakup music, music to fall in love to, contemplative music, music for productivity, music for the dancefloor. We often speak of artists who defy genre categories, and Max Cooper certainly does that. But what sets him apart is his capacity to defy emotional categories.
We sort most of the music that touches us deeply into emotional categories. Different music suits different moments. We have breakup music, music to fall in love to, contemplative music, music for productivity, music for the dancefloor.
We often speak of artists who defy genre categories, and Max Cooper certainly does that. But what sets him apart is his capacity to defy emotional categories. It doesn't matter what I'm feeling – if I'm feeling at all, then I know Max Cooper's music will help me parse those feelings, whether I'm mourning, reflective, or exuberant. In his DJ mixes, EPs, or his debut LP, Human, released March 10 on Fields, Cooper's work transcends mental and spatial limitations, as well-suited for lying around in bed as having a reflective moment at the club at 4 am.
Cooper's background as a scientist is hard to avoid in discussions of his music, and with good reason. Science and nature seem a perfect visual accompaniment to Cooper's range from lush, organic, blissful tones to dark, bass-laden, spacey sounds. Listeners of Jon Hopkins, Apparat, and James Holden will appreciate Human's ability to blend classical, IDM, techno, ambient, and bass influences into an unmistakeable musical style. "This is the electronic music Thom Yorke wishes he could make," was my boyfriend's well-articulated quip when we listened to the album together.
Human is a cohesive and well-balanced LP, with a couple of singles and a range of dark and light moments. It's also purely Max Cooper, which can be a strength or a weakness. To my ear, it's a strength, because Cooper's penchant for building tension and offering rare moments of resolve is exactly what my brain asks for in music. The palette of sounds that he chooses is pretty darn close to the sound palette I would want to bring with me to my personal desert island doomsday fantasy rave.
The sonic consistency between the tracks on Human is what makes it so possible to get lost in it; even if you're dedicating full attention to it as you listen, it's possible to forget you're listening. Max Cooper's style has a way of becoming indistinguishable from your own mental processes, which is precisely why it's such great music to feel to.
The album opens with "Woven Ancestry", a delicate, panoramic introduction that would be comfortable in a fantasy or sci-fi soundtrack. "Adrift", the album's first single, follows, with a soft vocal from Kathrin deBoer and clicking percussion and well-timed pauses (knowing just when to hold back is a talent of Cooper's) driving it forward. "Automaton", also featuring deBoer's vocals, is anything but robotic, and offers a slightly less intense moment.
"Supine" feels bouncy and childlike, but things don't stay that way for long; the dark, crushing "Seething" offers quick contrast. A favorite of mine, "Numb"'s oppressive bass intermingled with a sultry, echoing vocal from deBoer (recorded freestyle over Cooper's loops and then treated with subtle reverb and compression), is nothing less than sensual.
"Impacts" is perhaps the album's most surprising moment, with abrasive, simple percussion that breaks up the album's overall airy feel. From there, "Empyrean" takes us back to the realm of the ethereal, with sweeping piano at its center, and "Apparitions" shifts to a dark, nearly-gospel vibe.
The energy picks back up as the album closes, with "Potency" (another personal favorite) creating anxiety with a buzzing, sludgy bass that's perfectly balanced by piano as it builds, leaving the listener on edge, awaiting the release that comes with "Awakening".
For those who crave slightly more variety, or who have listened to the album too many times already, bits and pieces of Human might be better consumed as part of a DJ mix. Thankfully, Cooper has plenty of those available on his Soundcloud. It's hard to review Human as a set of tracks, because it's so clearly meant to be consumed as an LP, but Cooper himself proves in his own DJ mixes that indeed, these songs can also be used as individual components, giving Human near-infinite listening potential.