The roots of drone and ambient are often drawn to the early days of synths. What other instrument could create such colossal waves of sound that last for hours on end? But if you delve into classical, the tendrils extend back to Debussy and Satie. The minimalist, impressionist composers were happy to lounge along with their work, allowing their pianos to ring out slowly, surely. Matthew Cooper is more aware of this evolution than most. The Portland-based composer has made piano-leaning ambient for over a decade and a half as Eluvium. And now, 10 plus years after his last foray into piano solo material, he’s delivered another tranquil trip down the keys.

Pianoworks is minimal and drowsy. Opening track “Recital” is based off of memories of piano lessons, giving the whole album a childish feel. Lines and patters repeat with easy grace, motifs are introduced suddenly then disappear with a grin. Much like Hampshire and Foat’s criminally underrated The Honeybear, this is music with kids in mind that can be thankfully enjoyed by adults. Less experimental than Nils Frahm’s Solo, Pianoworks lopes along like a less ambitious, cozier cousin of Max Richter’s R.E.M. companion, Sleep.

The production is simple, soft and gorgeous. Cooper’s bouncing right hand lines are cushioned with velvet and he rarely goes into the high octave twinkling notes, preferring to walk through a comforting mid-range. This is a compliment; eyelids tend to get exceptionally heavy as the first three songs trundle along. Late night car rides are not suggested. Curling up with a glass of wine and a cat is nearly mandatory. Cooper might be from Tennessee, but his current residence in the rainy Pacific Northwest is an obvious influence on these ruminations.

The physical copy of Pianoworks came with a full transcription of music and nothing here would trouble intermediate players. Cooper expressed a desire to have listeners try to play along if they could. There’s something charming in the melodies, bare in their complexity, but catchy enough to retain memory through the fingers and ears.

Through these relaxed tempos and lack of difficulty, Cooper is evoking Satie. At his best, he does channel the French master. The near gothic “Transfiguration One,” quietly sorrowful “Masquerade” and ever looping “Quiet Children” are unlikely to be matched in sheer, reverent beauty this year. But it also points to the single problem of Pianoworks, an occasional lack of emotional punch. Cooper is at his best both here and in his ambient works by injecting a sense of unease or melancholy into uniformly stunning sections. In the latter half of Pianoworks, he leans too heavily on beauty to carry him through, leaving little to chew on in “Transfiguration Two” or “Soliloquy & Aside.” Worse yet, a few songs are far too childish, with “Paper Autumnalia” beginning with the melody from “Silent Night.”

Still, the cushy prettiness of Pianoworks cannot be underestimated. For its occasional lack of stakes, Cooper has crafted a wondrous, welcoming album.

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