EP REVIEW: Max Cooper – ‘Earth’: cutting-edge IDM for our life on it

IN FORMER times, he’s what you would call a renaissance man, a polymath, Max Cooper: active and proficient in so many fields of creativity and science; jack of all trades, oh; master of them, too.

A childhood dalliance with the violin proved a false dawn; instead he pursued biology and was awarded a PhD in computational biology. No slouch, he. 

But music drew him back, and a slew of early, minimal singles for labels such as Traum Schallplatten and Fields from 2007 on engaged the brain and the head; they had that real Berlin insistence on the primacy of the beat, but other textures skittering and playing in the shadows.

He kept his tinder dry for his first album, it following some seven years and 20 or so 12”s into his sonic peregrinations. And he really opened it out on this work, Human, with an ear for what crunches the dancefloor set alongside deeper piano pieces, collaborations with Canadian sonic explorers Braids

Since then his body of work has been almost like a Mandelbrot set: spiralling ever out, searching, curious, adept, finessing. 

Take for instance the first track on his new Earth EP, which is set for release on August 27th. 

“Swarm” scored a short film by the McGloughlin brothers, fascinating visual documenters, and it really did score it; it was spliced and fused into every fast-cut, every beat triggered and informed by a shift in the imagery of the human swarm. 

We ran the rule over the track and the film a few weeks back here – you can watch the film, too – and said: “It comes in on a fizz of glitch before ringing into a gamelan-like trill of bells. There’s a bass drum, which invents itself mid-bar, for safe rhythmic haven. And it builds and weaves and swoops and becomes this complex, irresistible thing: real proper head listening. 

“And it has an accompanying short film – drawing on a tradition featuring people such as Philip Glass and Edward Burtynsky, [which] lofts us through mountains and scapes and also the quickly saccading patterns and streets and housing estates – our hives, where we swarm.”

Max is on record as saying: “I want to communicate something strong. I want to make an impact on people. And if something is fruitful, I am keen to learn. It’s all a matter of trying as much as possible.”

The EP’s second cut “Reflect” is just that, at least to begin with: a quieter moment, powering along on a staccato, shimmering keyboard figure; there’s a melancholia, a contemplation through a misted window maybe. As it unfolds, and if there’s one thing that Max’s work does with brilliance, it’s unfolding, there’s layer upon layer of nourishing glitch production sat in behind, offering grain. The keyboard figure builds, moves forward to crescendo, but at a leisurely pace; there’s clicks and zips and the suggestions of other sonic paths to follow. Before you know it, you’re inside, under that melody, looking back up.

“Spike” sets out a stall to get the bones in rhythm. A distant kickdrum makes the fingers, the shoulders, the neck, flex. That percussive hypnotism established, your fleshly avatar seduced, Max again builds in these layers. The main filtering melodic chop is pleasingly cyborg: every beat carrying a different tonality, lighting a different neural path. Really, there’s no rush to get there; every beat, every bar is a journey. Again, maestro.

“Surge” blears into view, mists smoking to reveal a glitchscape and processed voices. Electronics stretch and collide and clatter like a yacht harbour in high winds … manmade, you can detect, but subject to external pressures. The melody never lets fall its delicate cargo, but it is washed and buffeted under an ever- and increasingly expansive patina of small clicks, strikings, resonances and snaps. It breaks down, partially resurges, concludes. 

The whole EP clocks in at what? Something like 24 minutes. But there’s whole other aural ecosystems in here. It feels like it should’ve been, must’ve been longer, the time you spent in there, the amount of depth and perception and beautiful microsounds you’ve experienced. 

Rewarding, melodic, granular, many-layered, exploratory, synaesthesic, encompassing; if IDM has any place in your firmament, the Earth EP is an essential purchase.

Max Cooper’s Earth EP will be released on digital and vinyl formats on August 27th and is available to pre-order at his Bandcamp here, where you can also find a strictly limited run of accompanying leaf-skeleton prints tying in with each track. Remember what I said? A renaissance man …

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